Thu, Feb 12, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Hurricane-strength winds lash France, UK; close airports

AFP , PARIS

Severe windstorms left hundreds of thousands of homes without power across parts of France on Tuesday and forced authorities to shut down Paris’ two main airports while Britain went on flood alert.

Hurricane-force gusts of up to 140kph battered France’s west coast late on Monday as the second major storm in two weeks barreled in from the Atlantic.

Bracing for severe winds, authorities shut down Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports overnight for the first time in 34 years, canceling more than 200 flights.

The airport reopened at 10am, but Air France reported major delays for all incoming and outgoing flights.

The storm left some 900,000 homes without electricity late on Monday and by midday Tuesday 400,000 households were still without power in central, eastern and northern France, the grid operator ERDF said.

French emergency services were called out hundreds of times to clear fallen trees and debris from roads, but there were no reports of casualties or major injuries.

French weather services were forecasting severe winds of up to 120kph later Tuesday in eastern France, but the storm was expected to weaken as it moved towards Germany and Belgium.

Air France said it put up 3,000 travelers in hotel rooms near Charles de Gaulle, one of Europe’s busiest airports, and around 100 people spent the night in transit lounges, airport officials said.

In Britain, heavy rains and melting snow disrupted road and rail links and fuelled fears of flooding across parts of England and Wales, while storm-force winds contributed to delayed flights.

By 2pm there were 276 flood warnings in place in England and Wales, including one severe flood warning in the Anglian region of eastern England, Britain’s environment agency said.

London’s Thames Barrier was also closed to protect the British capital from a rising tide, and was expected to remain shut for most of the day, the agency said.

Up to 3,000 homes were left without electricity in parts of western England as a band of snow stretched from south Wales into the Midlands.

Bristol airport in southwest England was closed overnight because of heavy snowfall, with eight outbound flights and several inbound flights canceled or diverted to other airports.

Some trains between London, Manchester in northwest England and Birmingham in central England were canceled, while dozens of schools were closed for the day.

The French navy put three rescue vessels on standby to sail to the aid of ships in difficulty in the mouth of the English Channel, and sandbags were deployed on sea fronts exposed to flood risks.

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