French and Spanish rescuers on Sunday scrambled to reopen railways, douse forest fires and restore power to nearly a million homes plunged into darkness by a violent storm that killed 24 people in southern Europe.
“The priority today is to re-establish the electricity as quickly as possible,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said as he visited a town in the southwestern region that bore the brunt of Saturday’s storm.
The majority of the deaths were in Spain, where four children died near Barcelona when the roof and a wall of a sports hall were brought down on their heads by winds that in some places reached more than 180kph.
They were playing baseball outside the center in Sant Boi de Llobregat as the storm — which saw 20m high waves battering the Atlantic coast — gathered force and they ran inside to shelter.
Witnesses said they heard a loud sound, then saw that the roof and part of a wall had crumpled.
The storm was one of the fiercest to hit western Europe in a decade. It blew in eastwards from the Atlantic Ocean, barreling across southwest France and northern Spain — ripping roofs off houses, pulling down power lines and flattening hundreds of thousands of trees.
On Sunday it battered Italy, where a young woman was swept away to her death by a wave as she was walking on a beach near the southern city of Naples.
Rain also triggered a mudslide onto the main highway south of Naples, killing at least three people and injuring four, the Italian news agency ANSA reported citing firefighters.
Firefighters who pulled the dead and injured from the mud did not exclude that other people could be trapped under the landslide, which occurred on the main highway linking Salerno and Reggio di Calabria.
The winds had lost some of their force but were strong enough to destroy a restaurant in Imperia on the Mediterranean coast and to force some Italian ferry operators to cancel their sailings.
In Portugal, police and firefighters rescued 600 people who were stuck on roads blocked by snow and ice, officials said.
Eight people were killed in France, including four who inhaled carbon monoxide from electricity generators they used amid power outages in two separate incidents.
Two drivers were killed by falling trees on 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.
Twelve people died in total in Spain, including a woman who was 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.
Hundreds of Spanish firefighters — backed up by 14 planes and helicopters — battled three separate forest fires sparked by electricity pylons brought down by the tempest in northeastern Spain.
The fires were under control by Sunday evening, officials said.