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French rescuers search for more bodies after deadly storm
L'Aiguillon-Sur-Mer, France (AFP) March 1, 2010
Rescuers waded through grey floodwaters in France on Monday looking for more bodies after a fierce storm that killed at least 60 people in Western Europe.
The storm dubbed "Xynthia" unleashed gale force winds and torrential rains on Sunday, destroying roads and houses along France's Atlantic coast. The government declared a national emergency.
The French toll rose to 51 dead and eight people were still missing on Monday, civil security spokesman Patrick Vailli said. More than 170,000 homes lacked power after the fiercest storm to have battered France since 1999.
At least five people also died in neighbouring Germany, according to police, three in Spain, one in Portugal and one in Belgium.
French firefighters and emergency workers backed by helicopters were deployed to try to reach stranded residents, mostly in the Vendee and Charente regions of western France.
Teams of rescuers waded through the thigh-deep waters and took to boats to reach flooded houses whose residents were reported missing in the town of L'Aiguillon-sur-Mer.
Hundreds of families slept in shelters set up in schools and dance halls. In Charente, regional authorities warned that a combination of high winds and tides continued to pose a flood risk.
The storm hit France early Sunday with eight-metre (26-foot) waves, surprising residents in their beds and sending them scrambling onto rooftops. The wind reached speeds of 150 kilometres per hour (93 mph).
Georges Van Parys, 72, described heaving his disabled wife Mauricette, 68, onto the roof of their car to escape the floodwaters, where they waited for six hours for to be rescued.
"I was in my underpants, my wife was in her night dress," he said. "We don't even have any papers or any money."
About 30 people were admitted to hospital, regional officials said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy visited L'Aiguillon-sur-Mer, where he mourned "a national catastrophe, a human tragedy with a dreadful toll".
Sarkozy said he was making three million euros (four million dollars) of emergency funds available for the victims and promised that electricity would be restored by Tuesday.
The European Union said it was ready to offer support for the countries affected.
Criticism arose over flood defences and construction permits in the region, where dykes collapsed and houses built near the shore were flooded by the tide. Sarkozy ordered investigations and a review of the sea defences.
"We must with all urgency shed light on this unacceptable and incomprehensible tragedy," Sarkozy said.
"We have to ask ourselves how in France in the 21st century families can be surprised in their sleep and die, drowned in their homes."
Air traffic began returning to normal at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on Sunday evening, a spokesman said, after around a quarter of flights were cancelled during the day.
Winds of 175 kilometres per hour were recorded at the tip of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but Xynthia fell short of the record 200-kph levels of a deadly 1999 storm which killed 92 people.
In Germany police said five people had been killed, most of them by falling trees. A two-year-old boy drowned near Frankfurt after a gust of wind blew him into a river.
In Spain authorities said two men died when their car was hit by a falling tree and an 82-year-old woman was killed when a wall collapsed.
Portugal said a 10-year-old boy was killed by a falling branch.
A falling tree killed one man in Belgium, and emergency services were called out repeatedly to deal with fallen power lines.
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Paris (AFP) Feb 28, 2010
Hurricane-force winds, surging seas and driving rain lashed western Europe on Sunday, leaving at least 53 people dead and more than a million households without power. Dubbed "Xynthia", the Atlantic storm crashed against the western coasts of France and Spain overnight, bringing with it a band of foul weather stretching from Portugal to the Netherlands and inland as far as Germany. The b ... read more
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