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Storm Eleanor forces swathes of Europe to hunker down

© AFP / by Joseph Schmid | Part of the scaffolding was torn off a building in Paris on Wednesday as winter storm Eleanor whipped across northern France

PARIS (AFP) - 

Winter storm Eleanor swept into France, Belgium and the Netherlands on Wednesday after tearing through England and Northern Ireland, cutting power to tens of thousands while forcing airports and train services to halt operations.

Heavy winds led the airports in Strasbourg and Basel-Mulhouse on France's border with Germany and Switzerland to close after gusts of more than 110 kilometres per hour (70 mph) were recorded, France's civil aviation authority told AFP, before they were reopened shortly after midday.

Nine people were reported injured in France -- four critically -- and another in the Netherlands after a tree fell on a person in the southern village of Heesch.

At Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport, 60 percent of departures were delayed Wednesday morning, as were a third of arrivals, while a handful of flights had to be rerouted before the winds eased back a bit.

The winds were also wreaking havoc with train services in several French regions as officials issued severe weather warnings for 44 departments until early Thursday.

About 200,000 homes across northern France were without electricity, while "particularly intense" flooding was expected on the Atlantic coasts.

The Eiffel Tower, which attracts six million visitors a year, was closed until at least Wednesday afternoon, while worries about falling tree branches prompted Paris officials to close all city parks for the day.

- 'Woken people up' -

Eleanor barrelled into continental Europe after whipping across England, Northern Ireland and Ireland, with the Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, closed as a precautionary measure to protect London from swelling tides.

"We have seen some heavy showers push through across the south of the UK along with hail, loud thunder and lightning, which has woken people up," said meteorologist Becky Mitchell.

Gusts of 160 kmh were recorded at Great Dun Fell in Westmorland, northwest England, while overturned vehicles and trees caused closures of major motorways.

In Ireland, power supply company ESB said electricity had been restored to 123,000 customers, while 27,000 remained without power.

Streets around the docks in Galway on the west coast were flooded after high tides breached the sea defences, prompting the deployment of about two dozen troops to support flood defence efforts.

- Flooding and flight delays -

Belgium was also put on "orange" alert, the third of four warning levels, with officials urging people to exercise caution when venturing out, in particular because of falling tree branches and other objects.

Although the winds eased toward midday, rescue workers in Brussels were kept busy with about 70 calls across the city, mainly after trees were knocked down, and several parks were closed.

In the Netherlands, 252 of about 1,200 flights were cancelled at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, a main European hub, as weather alerts were issued for several regions.

Several main roads and train lines were also closed as officials rushed to prepare flooding defences.

Flights were also disrupted at Frankfurt's airport in Germany, where the storm has been baptised Burglind, and at Zurich airport, as Swiss officials urged hikers to avoid forest walks.

RTS television reported that about 14,000 homes were without power in several Swiss cantons.

Eleanor is the fourth major storm to hit Europe since December.

Eleanor is now heading for the French Alps, where several ski areas have shut down lifts, and Corsica, where meteorologists are warning of "violent" gusts that could reach 200 kilometres per hour on the island's northern tip.

Austria is also in its path, where the avalanche risk was expected to be raised to four on a scale of five in several areas Wednesday afternoon.

by Joseph Schmid

© 2018 AFP