Atlantic storm 'Xynthia' leaves dozens dead in France
Atlantic storm Xynthia whipped through western Europe at the weekend, leaving at least 50 dead on the western coast of France. French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled three million euros in government aid during a visit to the affected areas.
The eastward-moving Atlantic storm dubbed “Xynthia” left devastation in its wake as it passed through western Europe at the weekend, leaving dozens dead and half a million without electricity.
French coastal towns in the regions of Vendee and Charente Maritime were the worst hit with heavy rains and gusts of winds uprooting trees and street signs. At least 50 people were killed in the floods in France, with a number of others missing.
FRANCE 24 correspondent, Nicolas Germain, reporting from the picturesque western town of La Faute-sur-Mer, said: “Even as late as Monday morning – over twelve hours after the storm passed through France, the roads are still flooded and the streets are filled with debris. Some still have no electricity; there are dozens of fire trucks, which are sending out rescue teams to conduct searches.”
Local residents waited on rooftops until help arrived.
Jean-Pierre, a resident of La-Faute-sur-Mer, told AFP that he and his wife woke in the night to find water pouring up the stairs, filling the house in less than half-an-hour.
More than 9,000 French firefighters and emergency workers backed by helicopters were deployed on Monday to try to reach stranded residents in Vendee and Charente.
Germain reports that some inhabitants of the nearby town of Aiguillon-sur-Mer suffered a gruesome and sudden end: “The sea wall protecting the town was destroyed, so the water rose quickly as the people slept and they drowned in their sleep.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy visited L'Aiguillon-sur-Mer on Monday, where he mourned "a national catastrophe, a human drama with a dreadful toll" and said "the urgent thing is to support the families who have people missing or dead."
Sarkozy unveiled three million euros of emergency funds available for the victims and promised that electricity would be restored by Tuesday.
France is also due to ask the European Union to release funds from its regional budget in order to help pay for recovery operations.
Commerce minister Herve Novelli said small businesses would receive 10,000 euros (14,000 dollars) in aid to help them cover the costs of repairs in storm-hit areas.
"It is a natural catastrophe," French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told reporters.
Hortefeux said the storm was particularly deadly because it hit at night.
"It's obvious that if this had happened during the day, the death toll would not have been disastrous, because people were taken by surprise during their sleep," Hortefeux said on France Info radio.
The storm, which originated in the Iberian peninsula on Saturday before hitting France’s western coast, passed into neighbouring countries.
At least four people died in Germany, three in Spain, one in Portugal and one in Belgium.