51 Die as Storm Xynthia Hammers France
The winter storm which hit France February 28 lashed the Pyrenees, swept up the Atlantic coast and moved inland across northern Europe, leaving some 51 dead, 8 missing and a trail of destruction across swathes of Western France.
Winds reached 200 kph on the peaks of the Pyrenees and up to 160 kph along the Atlantic Coast. The storm caused most damage to the Vendee and Charente-Maritime regions in SW France, flooded coastal islands and destroyed yachts and boats in small ports and harbours. PM François Fillon called it a “national catastrophe”. He promulgated legislation enabling insurers to begin making immediate payouts.
Disaster Aid Fund
The government set up a 3 million Euro storm disaster aid fund and Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo visited valuable oyster farms along the coast. Fishermen told how their livelihoods had been destroyed with thousands of Euros of valuable oyster stocks destroyed.
Five of France’s 95 departments were on red alert and more than a million homes were hit by power cuts, from Brittany to Massif Central. High waves and hurricane strength gusts battered coastal towns, flooded inland areas and brought down buildings. EDF the power utility said half a million customers still faced blackouts 24 hours later.
President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered an inquiry into why no advanced warnings were given of the storm. In Paris motorcyclists were blown across streets and 160 kph winds were recorded. People drowned in low-lying areas or were killed by falling trees in the most severe weather since 1999, when 90 people died.
Rivers overflowed in Brittany, high tides and giant waves swamped communities on the Atlantic coast and sea walls gave way in towns such as L’Aguillon.
Air Traffic was badly affected at Paris’s main Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport with Air France cancelling some 70 of a total of 700 scheduled flights at the height of the storm, according to report in Liberation newspaper.