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. Major storm sparks travel chaos and damage in Britain, France

Heathrow airport.
by Staff Writers
London (AFP) March 11, 2008
Heavy storms were expected to cause more travel chaos in Britain Tuesday, with France also preparing for more bad weather, after three vessels ran into problems in the Channel a day earlier.

Five French fishermen were rescued from a trawler which sank late Monday in gale-force winds off the Channel island of Guernsey, maritime officials said, while a body was separately recovered off the coast of Brittany in northwest France, feared to be that of a man missing since Sunday.

A woman also died in Normandy after she was hit by a branch.

In Britain, more than a hundred flights were cancelled at airports including London's Heathrow and the port of Dover was temporarily closed due to the storms, described by experts as possibly the biggest of the winter that could cause hundreds of millions of pounds (euros/dollars) in damage.

Amid gale-force winds of up to 80 miles (130 kilometres) per hour and driving rain, airports were among the worst hit with cancellations and delays brought on by precautionary measures taken by air traffic controllers.

A spokesman for airports operator BAA said that 115 flights from Heathrow had been cancelled by Monday evening, but could not give details on the number of cancellations from London's Gatwick airport.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had to cancel a planned meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico after his flight from Bratislava was cancelled due to the bad weather.

Sweeping in from the Atlantic, the storm hit first in Cornwall and Devon in the southwest of the country, before moving east across England and Wales.

There was widespread disruption on trains in southern England, including London where underground train services were also hit by flooding, while speed restrictions were imposed on trains because of heavy rain and high winds.

About 30 people were rescued when a beachfront caravan park was flooded by seawater, which breached defences near Chichester, on the English south coast, a coastguard spokesman said.

Further west a Swedish tanker with 13 crew on board got into difficulties off the Isle of Wight, coastguards said. Two coastguard tugs were sent to help the stricken 11,000-tonne vessel, the Astral.

Association of British Insurers Director of General Insurance and Health Nick Starling said that while it was too early to say how much the damage caused by the storms could cost, "events like this can cost hundreds of millions of pounds".

In France an 88-metre (290 foot) long cargo vessel, the Artemis, ran aground on a beach at Sables-d'Olonne, on the Atlantic coast, according to the local government office.

Later in the day a French trawler, the Marie Louise Bert, sank: the vessel, based in Saint-Brieuc with five crew, went down 41 nautical miles west of Guernsey in winds of up to 110 kmh.

All those on board were rescued by nearby vessels, according to the local French government office, after a French helicopter and a Channel Islands rescue airplane were dispatched to the scene.

Meanwhile a body was found off the Brittany coast, feared to be that of a 26-year-old man missing since falling into the sea at Relecq-Kerhuon, near the port city of Brest.

The distribution arm of energy group EDF also said in a statement that about 60,000 French households were without electricity on Monday because of the storms, with a company spokeswoman telling AFP that the situation could get worse as the evening progressed.

At one point the wind was gusting up to 155 kph (87 mph), according to French weather experts.

"We haven't had one this strong this year," said Emmanuel Bocri, a forecaster for Meteo France, adding: "In general there are one or two of this strength each winter."

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Non-aligned Finland to join NATO rapid reaction force
Helsinki (AFP) March 7, 2008
Finland said Friday it would take part in NATO's future rapid reaction force, a move criticised by some members of the opposition who see it as a step towards joining the alliance.

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