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. Fresh warnings after storm kills 26 in southern Europe

People watch as flood water rushes down the Nervion river in Bilbao, northern Spain, on January 27, 2009. At least 14 people -- seven in the northeastern region of Catalonia -- died in Spain in violent storms that struck southern Europe over the weekend. Eight were killed in France and three in Italy. Photo courtesy AFP

Floods hit Spanish Basque Country
Flooding struck Bilbao, the largest city in Spain's Basque Country, on Tuesday as heavy rain caused local rivers to burst their banks, forcing the closure of schools and roads, officials said. Bilbao's city hall urged parents to pick their children up from school early as a total of 34 schools across the northern Basque region, which has a population of just over three million people, closed because of the weather. Authorities closed the northerly A-8 highway to Cantabria as well as several secondary roads after they became too hazardous for traffic. Up to 40 millimetres (1.6 inches) of rain were forecast along with winds of up to 85 kilometres (50 miles) per hour, according to Spain's national weather office, prompting authorities to issue a severe weather warning for the region. The Basque regional government said in a statement it had launched an emergency action plan to deal with the flooding, which comes after 26 people lost their lives over the weekend due to stormy weather in Spain's Catalonia region, southern France and Italy. With a population of just under one million, Bilbao is the Basque region's financial capital and home to one of the Guggenheim Museums.
by Staff Writers
Bordeaux, France (AFP) Jan 26, 2009
Weather forecasters warned Monday of flooding and more gales to come after hurricane-force winds killed 26 people across southern Europe and left hundreds of thousands without electricity.

The storm caused several hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in damage to homes, farms, businesses and infrastructure in France alone, insurance companies said.

As families buried four children killed when a sports hall collapsed in northeastern Spain, the French prime minister called a crisis meeting for a briefing on recovery efforts underway in the country's southwest.

The death toll continued to rise as a 70-year-old woman was reported dead of hypothermia after fleeing her home near Bordeaux after tiles were blown off her roof by winds that in places reached 180 kilometres (110 miles) an hour.

Local authorities declared a state of alert because of the risk of flooding in eight departments in southwestern France, which along with northeastern Spain bore the brunt of the weekend's violent storms.

The tempest blew in from the Atlantic on Saturday, ripping roofs off houses, pulling down power lines and flattening countless trees -- many onto roads and rail lines -- before heading across the Mediterranean to batter Italy.

France's agriculture ministry said late Monday that five million euros had been set aside to address the problem of fallen trees across woodlands and the country's infrastructure.

"There's nothing left standing around here," said Pierre Darmante, the mayor of Arjuzanx village in the heavily-forested Landes department on the French Atlantic coast.

The devastation was described as "like a war zone" by the head of the SNCF state rail operator, Guillaume Pepy, after he visited the area.

Pepy told France Info radio later that it would take up to two weeks for rail transport across the country's network to get completely back to normal.

Both France and Spain deployed hundreds of soldiers to join the thousands of workers and technicians engaged in the massive recovery effort after the worst storm to hit southwestern France and northern Spain in a decade.

The storm plunged 1.7 million homes into darkness and by Monday night 427,000 of them were still without power.

Some 410,000 mobile telephone subscribers were also unable to access their networks as a result of the loss of power, according to the SFR and Bouygues Telecom providers.

Nine people were killed in France, including four who inhaled carbon monoxide from electricity generators they used during power outages in two separate incidents.

Two drivers were killed by falling trees Saturday in the Landes department, while flying debris killed a 78-year-old outside his home. A 73-year-old woman died in the Gironde department when a power cut halted her breathing machine.

But most of the deaths were in Spain, where more strong winds were forecast.

The four children died in the town of Sant Boi de Llobregat, near Barcelona, when strong winds brought the roof and wall of a sports hall crashing down on their heads.

Two more deaths were reported in Spain on Monday. Two people were found dead in the northwestern Galicia region apparently from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator they set up after a power cut, officials said.

Fourteen died in total in Spain, including a woman crushed by a wall, another who died after a door lifted by the wind slammed into her, and a police sergeant killed by a falling tree as he was directing traffic.

The storm also claimed lives in Italy in two separate incidents near the southern city of Naples.

A young woman was swept to her death Sunday by a wave as she walked on a beach, while torrential rain triggered a mudslide on the main highway south of Naples, killing two people and injuring five.

French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said authorities would likely soon declare the storms to have been a natural catastrophe, which would let homeowners claim back home repair costs from their insurance firms.

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UNICEF needs soar past one billion dollars
Geneva (AFP) Jan 27, 2009
UN Children's Fund UNICEF on Tuesday warned that 175 million children could soon be affected by climate-related disasters, as its appeal for funding soared past the one billion dollar mark.

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