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Storm leaves hundreds of thousands without power in France

High winds and heavy rain raged through northern France and Switzerland on Friday, leaving hundreds of thousands of French households without power and grounding an oil-laden ship off the Brittany coast.


AFP - A storm battered France and Switzerland on Friday, with three people injured in a Swiss train derailment, hundreds of thousands left without power and a grounded ship spilling oil off Brittany.

In France, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said France appeared to have escaped the storm without injuries, although Joachim wrought some significant damage, with downed electricity lines in some areas.

"It seems there have been no victims," he said, adding that "a certain number" of people living in low-lying areas in Brittany, in the northwest, had been evacuated because of the storm.

Officials said 600,000 households had lost electricity because of the storm, mainly in the west of the country.

By mid-day, the number of homes without electricity had fallen to about 260,000 as workers scrambled to restore electricity infrastructure.

The storm had been battering the area since Thursday night with gusts up to 133 kilometres (83 miles) per hour and waves up to seven metres (23 feet) high.

Joachim caused a cargo ship, the TK Bremen flying the Maltese flag, to run aground and spill some oil into the sea off Brittany early on Friday, officials said.

"The level of pollution is limited," said local maritime official Marc Gander, adding that regional authorities were deploying equipment to try and contain the slick and to empty the ship of its 180 tons of fuel and 40 tons of diesel.

All 19 members of the ship's crew were evacuated by helicopter.

Local prosecutors in Brest said they had opened an investigation into the spill.

Train traffic was disrupted with more than 15 trains cancelled in central France and significant delays, the French rail authority said.

The storm had little effect on international flights but the strong winds did force some tourist sites to close, including the park at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris and the famed Christmas market in Strasbourg.

However some airports were affected in Switzerland, with a hundred flights to European destinations cancelled at Zurich and Basel-Mulhouse.

The storm was moving its way inland on Friday, with Swiss authorities reporting it caused a train to derail, lightly injuring three people.

"Friday morning a train derailed in the forest near Tramelan," in the northwest of the mountainous country, police said in a statement.

The storm also caused road accidents in Switzerland with one 36-year-old driver injured when his truck was blown over.

The rail operator CGN, which manages the lines between Switzerland and France, announced the closure of all its services.

Elsewhere a 65-year-old man suffered hypothermia after being swept into the Rhine river.

The ill wind did blow some good for winter sports enthusiasts, with heavy snowfalls falling or expected at ski stations until now short of snow for locals and tourists just ahead of the Christmas holiday peak season.

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