Thousands of people who minutes earlier had been enjoying summertime weather watching the stage 7 finish of the Tour de France Saturday were suddenly plunged into danger by a severe thunderstorm that hit the Station des Rousses in eastern France.
For more than half an hour, bolts of lightning, crashing thunder, torrential rain and hail battered the spectators, many of them in family groups waiting for shuttle buses to take them to temporary parking lots.
VeloNews photographer Casey Gibson was one of the few journalists to witness the scenes of panic, as people asked drivers of vehicles associated with the Tour de France to let them take shelter. Gibson was one of the few people to cooperate, giving shelter to four fans from Atlanta, Georgia.
“I happened to be stuck on an access road and could see several thousand fans in an open meadow waiting for shuttle buses,” Gibson said, “The people were trapped in the meadow, standing in water, with no place to go.”
Gibson said the ambulance and emergency services finally showed up and began evacuating people to a nearby vacation center, which also housed the Tour pressroom. “There were so many people climbing into the ambulances they couldn’t close the doors,” Gibson said. “They are trying to house the people at the resort and get them dry clothes and food.”
A person from the emergency services was angered by Gibson taking photos of the people’s plight. One man was incensed by the American photographer’s actions.
“He attacked me, tried to take my camera away and ended up tearing the flash off the top of it in a rage,” Gibson said. “I was trying to explain that my photos would be helpful to them, but the man was too angry to listen,” he said.