Storm lashes France

France is struggling to cope with
one of its most violent storms in years as winds of more than 90mph swept
through the country, killing dozens of people and leaving one million homes
without power.

Parts of central and western France
were the worst hit as gales and torrential rain felled trees and caused

At least seven people drowned in
villages in the coastal Vendée department, while three elderly people and a
child were found dead in Charente Maritime around La Rochelle.

A man was killed by a falling tree
branch in the south-western town of Luchon, where winds reached 90mph.

As the storm, known as Xynthia,
progressed northwards through France, five of the country’s 95 departments were
placed on red alert for only the second time in the emergency system’s history.

The Météo France weather agency
predicted the worst would be over by this afternoon as the storm headed towards

Xynthia reached France yesterday
after lashing parts of southern Europe with heavy winds and rain.

In northern Portugal, a 10-year-old
boy was killed by a falling tree branch while playing football, and authorities
in Spain said two men died when their car was crushed by a falling tree. Tens
of thousands of homes were left without electricity.

The bad weather conditions caused
transport chaos across France. Fallen trees and flooding caused roads and
railway lines to be cut off, while some flights in and out of Charles de Gaulle
(Roissy) airport, in northern Paris, were cancelled.

Authorities at the garden of
Versailles reported that 30 trees had fallen overnight.

In the worst-hit areas on the
western Atlantic coast, helicopters were deployed to rescue residents who had
been forced to climb on to their roofs by floods.

According to Météo France, Xynthia
is the most violent storm France has seen since December 1999, when high winds
caused widespread damage across the country.