- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 28, 2010

UPDATED:

PARIS — A violent late-winter storm with fierce rain and hurricane-strength winds ripped across Western Europe on Sunday, battering France and four other countries and leaving at least 51 people dead.

The storm, named Xynthia, was the worst in France since 1999, when 90 people died.

Many of the 45 victims in France drowned, while others died when hit by parts of buildings or trees and branches that were ripped off by the wind. At least a dozen people were missing Sunday, and 59 others were injured.

Three people died in Spain, one was killed in Germany, and a child was crushed to death in Portugal. The storm also hit Belgium, with one death reported there.

Nearly 900,000 people in France were without electricity. Rivers overflowed their banks in Brittany, while high tides and enormous waves swamped Atlantic Ocean communities.

A retired couple who had parked their camping car on the waterfront in the town Moutier-en-Retz died when the vehicle was swallowed by rushing waters and they could not make it to firm ground.

The threat of avalanches was high in the Pyrenees Mountains and the southern Alps because of wind and wet snow.

In Paris, winds knocked over motorcycles and spewed garbage around the streets of the capital. Flights were delayed, and at least 100 were canceled at the two main Paris airports. A number of trains throughout France were delayed because of flooded tracks.

Winds reached about 130 mph on the summits of the Pyrenees and up to nearly 100 mph along the Atlantic Coast. The storm hit the Vendee and Charente-Maritime regions in southwestern France hardest, flooding coastal islands and tossing boats around in ports.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux planned to visit the worst hit regions Monday.

The storm was moving eastward, and parts of France along the border with Germany and Belgium were on alert for heavy rain and high winds.

Officials say scores of flights and trains have been canceled or delayed in southwestern Germany. One person was killed in the Black Forest area when winds brought a tree down onto his car in the Sunday afternoon storm.

Fallen trees also closed many stretches of train tracks in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland.

High winds caused the cancellation of 119 flights from Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s busiest, while scores of others were delayed or diverted.

Xynthia hit Belgium in midafternoon. One man was killed by a falling tree in his garden in Jodoigne in southern Belgium, broadcaster VRT reported. High winds also brought down some electricity lines, leaving many without power in the south of the country.

In Spain, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said three people were killed by hurricane-strength winds and heavy rainfall that lashed the country’s northern regions over the weekend. Mr. Perez said the storm had been intense in certain regions and had caused the deaths of a woman in northwestern Ourense and of two people whose car was hit by a falling tree in Arlanzon just north of Madrid.

The national weather agency warned that a violent cyclone depression had formed over the Atlantic Ocean and was to cross areas bordering the Bay of Biscay.

Winds gusting up to 118 mph blew over the Canary Islands overnight Friday, causing a crane to collapse on a building and lampposts to fall onto parked cars and forcing flight cancellations.

Portugal’s home affairs minister, Rui Pereira, said a child had been killed Saturday by a falling tree in Paredes. The 10-year-old was playing ball near a church while waiting to go to a prayer meeting when a branch crushed him, Mr. Pereira said.

AP correspondent Harold Heckle in Madrid, Aoife White in Brussels and Pierre-Baptiste Vanzini in Nantes, France, contributed to this report.


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