France and Spain pick up pieces after storm kills 15

France and Spain pick up pieces after storm kills 15

A man looks at an uprooted tree during a winter storm in Tarnos, southwestern France, on Saturday. Gales battered southwest France and northern Spain, killing 15 people and cutting electricity supplies.

January 26, 2009, Monday/ 17:27:00
European countries sent teams of electricians to France on Sunday and Spain deployed extra troops to help deal with the aftermath of storms that killed 15 people.

With Saturday’s winds of up to 190 kilometers (118 miles) an hour gone, the sun rose on Sunday over a chaotic landscape of fallen trees and electricity pylons, destroyed roofs, crushed cars and scattered debris in southwest France and northern Spain. The Spanish Defense Ministry said the army had stepped up support to emergency services fighting a forest fire in Alicante, north of the resort town of Benidorm, that started when gales felled an electricity pylon on Saturday.

Thousands of people in the area were evacuated from their homes and spent the night in libraries and sports centers. More than 1,000 French electricians backed up by 12 helicopters struggled to restore power to 1.1 million homes. Colleagues from Britain, Germany and Portugal were due to arrive later in the day to help out.

“After the storm, the electricity network is badly damaged ... Access to the network is particularly difficult, complicating the work of our teams,” said the French grid manager Electricite Reseau Distribution France (ERDF).

The storm killed 11 people in Spain -- including four children killed when a sports center collapsed -- and four in France, where it was the worst since December 1999.

A man looks at an uprooted tree during a winter storm in Tarnos, southwestern France, on Saturday. Gales battered southwest France and northern Spain, killing 15 people and cutting electricity supplies.

Then, a storm had killed 88 people in France. After that, the weather forecast agency had set up an early warning system and authorities said that numerous alerts in the days before Saturday’s storm had probably helped keep the death toll low.

French electricians were installing 500 back-up generators in affected towns and villages as an emergency measure, ERDF said. It said 12 helicopters were flying over the area to help teams on the ground build up a detailed picture of the damage.

In Spain, the electricity network operator REE said gales had disrupted supply on 17 lines in the north. Tens of thousands of people in the Galicia and Catalonia regions were without power, local authorities said. The French state railway operator SNCF said it too had 1,000 engineers and workers on the ground, using chainsaws to remove fallen trees from the tracks and specialized equipment to fix overhead electric cables.

Train traffic was back to normal between Paris and Bordeaux, the most important line from the capital to the southwest, but the Paris-Toulouse line was still out of service as were numerous regional and local railway lines, SNCF said.

Firefighters walk in the rubble of the sports center that collapsed during high winds in Sant Boi del Llobregat, near Barcelona on Saturday. Below, relatives of victims react near the collapsed sports center.

“More than 400 level crossings are out of order for lack of power supply, so it is not possible to give precise forecasts of when traffic can be restored. We advise travelers to postpone their trips on these lines,” it said in a statement.

Hundreds of rail passengers who were stranded on Saturday when the storm hit were given emergency shelter overnight in municipal buildings normally used for parties.

They were being evacuated by coach as roads were reopening on Sunday, SNCF said. Bordeaux, Toulouse and Perpignan airports had also reopened, officials said.

Spanish Airports authority AENA said there were no flight disruptions on Sunday while national train operator Renfe said all trains were running normally except those that cross the Spanish/French border. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was scheduled to visit the Gironde area, where Bordeaux is located, later on Sunday to show solidarity. The Gironde prefect said about 25,000 residents of the area had no functioning telephone lines.

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