Ancient seawalls blamed for storm disaster

The French President described the
fatalities in Atlantic seaside towns and villages as a “human drama with a
terrible death toll” as he pledged emergency aid of almost $4.1 million.

The European Union has also
promised money to all countries affected by 90 mph winds and rain, which has
included Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Germany.

The storm killed at least 62 people
across Western Europe.

But it was France which was worst
hit on Sunday, with huge swathes of its west coast battered mercilessly by a
storm dubbed “Xynthia”.

So far 51 people have been
confirmed dead, with at least nine people reported missing.

Many drowned in their own homes as
they became flooded by 30ft waves sweeping in from the sea.

The city of La Rochelle and the
coastal area to the north and south of it suffered the greatest damage and the
most deaths.

Today more than 9,000 emergency
workers supported by helicopters were trying to reach stranded residents in the
western Vendee and Charente regions.

Visiting the town of
L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, Mr Sarkozy told locals: “We will help you”,
adding: “There are dead, missing people and we owe them our
compassion.”

The French leader also tried to
staunch a storm of criticism over the state of the country’s sea walls, saying
“this is not the time.”

One official noted just how old
some sea walls were. “The sea wall that broke dated from (the era) of
Napoleon,” Philippe de Villiers, a far-right politician who heads the regional
government in Vendee, said. “Either we build (new) sea walls, in which
case they need to be taller and taller … or we have to build further”
inland.

WORLDFrenchstormsSTORY

The fiercest storms to hit France in nearly a decade have killed more than 50 people.
Photo: Telegraph
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