THIRTY thousand people flocked to Mont Saint-Michel on Saturday to see the “tide of the century” surround the picturesque French landmark as millions viewed a solar eclipse across Europe.
A record-breaking crowd gathered at the rocky island topped with a Gothic Benedictine abbey to watch the sea surge up the bay on the Normandy coast, which is exposed to some of Europe’s strongest tides.
But as a wall of water as high as a four-storey building swept up the estuary, the festive atmosphere was tempered by news of two drownings.
The deaths of a 70-year-old fisherman swept away in the Gironde region of south-western France, and of another man who was collecting shellfish off the Ile Grande further north, were not directly linked to the so-called supertide. However 15 people had to be rescued in the Brittany region alone after becoming trapped by afternoon tides.
The massive tidal surge, which peaked at a record high of more than 14 metres (46 feet), was driven by the effects of the solar eclipse on Friday.
Spectators packed a near-kilometre-long footbridge that links the UNESCO World Heritage Site with the mainland while others watched from the crowded ramparts of the granite islet, which is visited by three million people a year.
Officials at France’s Navy Oceanic and Hydrological Service (SHOM) had warned that the high tide on Saturday, which peaked just after 2000 GMT, would pose a danger to people venturing out too far.
But even before dawn, tourists from France and the world over — Japanese, Germans and Belgians in particular — were taking up their places to watch the spectacle.
Some 10,000 people had already turned up at Mont Saint-Michel on Friday evening — where as the saying goes, the sea rises “at the speed of a galloping horse” — only for the tide not to reach predicted levels.