France will declare a weekend storm that battered its coastline and flooded towns a "natural catastrophe", Prime Minister François Fillon said Sunday. The move frees up state funds for rebuilding areas damaged by Atlantic storm Xynthia.
AFP - France will formally declare the storm that battered its Atlantic coast, killing at least 45 people and flooding several towns, a "natural catastrophe", Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Sunday.
Fillon held an emergency meeting of ministers to assess the disaster before announcing the decision, which will free up state funds to help local communities rebuild in the wake of the disaster.
"It's a national catastrophe and my first thoughts are therefore for the families of the victims, to whom I would like to present condolences from the government and the nation," he said.
Fillon also announced a plan to reinforce sea walls and dykes.
French Prime Minister François Fillon briefs media on the storm's impact
The low-lying western regions of the Vendee and Charente-Maritime bore the brunt of the storm, which barrelled in off the Atlantic and forced flood water hundreds of metres inland, sending householders scurrying onto roof tops.
Rescue teams in lifeboats and helicopters rushed into action, but the interior ministry confirmed that at least 45 people had been killed, mainly through drowning, although some were hit by flying debris.
"This toll is evolving minute by minute and is likely to get worse as our reconnaissance takes us further inland, into houses and car parks," said Major Samuel Bernes, spokesman for the civil defence force.
Fallen power lines caused blackouts for around a million homes across a 500 kilometre (310 mile) wide swathe of the country from the Brittany peninsula to the highlands of the Massif Central.
The national power firm EDF said half a million clients were still without power at nightfall on Sunday, and Fillon said it would take several days to restore power everywhere.
Four people were killed by the storm as it passed over Spain and Portugal and it has now moved on to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Two Germans and a Belgian have so far died, bringing the interim European toll to 52.
Date created : 2010-02-28