More than 50 people die as violent storm batters Europe

More than 50 people die as violent storm batters Europe

At least 51 people have died in a violent storm that swept across parts of Europe Saturday and Sunday, dpa reported.

France was the hardest hit, with 45 people reported killed, but the Interior Ministry said the death toll was certain to rise. Prime Minister Francois Fillon declared the storm a "national catastrophe."

President Nicolas Sarkozy urged the government to act "without delay" and said he would visit parts of the stricken region Monday.

Packing winds of up to 160 kilometres per hour, the storm uprooted trees, flooded houses, wreaked havoc with transportation and cut electricity to more than 1 million households, primarily along the French Atlantic coastline.

Among the victims was an 88-year-old woman who was found drowned in her house on the Isle of Oleron, off the west coast. Another octagenarian woman and a 10-year-old child also died in the region.

In addition, a man was struck by a branch and killed late Saturday in the south-western city of Luchon.

The heavy rains and strong winds made numerous roads impassable and flooded cities along the coast, cutting off many communities from the outside world.

The flooding was exceptional in many areas because the passage of the storm coincided with the annual spring tide. As a result, many dikes were swamped or they collapsed.

The storm is considered one of the worst to strike France since the tempest of 1999, which killed 92 people and caused several billion euros worth of damage.

But the mayor of La Rochelle, Maxime Bono, told France Info radio that his city had suffered far more damage from this storm than in 1999.

Rescue helicopters were deployed in La Rochelle and other coastal communities to evacuate people stranded in their homes and rescue others from their rooftops, where they had gone to escape the rising waters.

The storm traversed France from the south-west to the north-east. At mid-morning Sunday, it touched the greater Paris area, where winds reached more than 100 kph in Paris.

The carrier Air France said it had scrubbed about 100 flights Sunday from Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris, because of the high winds.

Railway traffic in and out of the capital and in other regions of the country was either shut down or badly disrupted because of damage to the tracks caused by fallen trees and branches.

Before it reached France, the storm had cut a swath through Portugal and Spain, where four people were reported killed.

From France, the storm moved on to Germany, killing two people, toppling trees and blowing billboards onto roads and railway lines.

A falling tree hit a passing car in Germany's Black Forest mountains, killing one occupant and injuring his wife. In woods near the city of Wiesbaden, a tree fell and killed a 69-year-old hiker.

Frankfurt's main railway station were closed temporarily after being declared unsafe. Local train services in south-west Germany were suspended.

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