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European Storm Xynthia - France Hardest Hit

By Sue Richards last modified Mar 01, 2010 05:24 PM

Published: 2010-03-01 17:24:37
Topics: Weather
Countries: France , Germany , Portugal , Spain

Thousands of firefighters and other rescue workers searched house by house today (Monday 1 March) along France's devastated Atlantic coast, trying to help those still stranded by a storm that smashed sea walls and killed at least 62 people across western Europe.

The storm, called Xynthia, blew into France early Sunday with hurricane-force winds (up to 166 kilometers per hour), flooding ports, destroying homes and leaving 1 million households without electricity. It also battered Belgium, Portugal, Spain and parts of Germany and snarled train and air travel throughout the continent.

About half the French death toll of 51 was attributed to the breach of the sea wall off the coastal town of L'Aiguillon-sur-Mer, where ocean waters surged up to the roofs of some homes. In the port of La Rochelle, the centre was flooded and yachts were washed onto the quays. Yachting Monthly reports that Les Sables d'Olonne marina is devastated, with pontoons torn from their pilings and now on land. Two boats are impaled on pilings, several boats have sunk and many were dismasted.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy toured the worst-hit areas Monday, the coastal regions of Vendee and Charente-Maritime, and pledged euro 3 million ($4 million) in emergency aid.

Regional officials clamored for France to quickly reinforce its aging sea walls. The French President 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, told France-Info. "Either we build (new) sea walls, in which case they need to be taller and taller ... or we have to build further inland".

Meteorologists said the disaster was caused by the concurrence of a lower pressure front with unusually strong winds that moved up from Spain through the Bay of Biscay, an exceptionally high tide and heavy rains. Despite the damage, the French meteorological office said the storm appeared less fierce than the one that hit France in December 1999, in which 92 people were killed.

Information taken from reports by thenewstribune.com & yachtingmonthly.com.

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