Four Dead As Rain, Wind Lash UK, France


At least four people have been killed as gale-force winds and rain hit Britain and France, disrupting Christmas travel and leaving thousands without power.

Two people in Britain died in pre-Christmas storms, while two others were killed in car accidents linked to bad weather.

A Russian sailor was also feared dead after falling from a damaged cargo ship off the northwest French coast.

In another incident, Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm and French man Damien Guillou were rescued from their racing yacht by a Norwegian vessel. Their boat had been damaged by huge waves and Force 10 winds off the British coast, French maritime officials said.

Around 240,000 French homes, mainly in the northwestern region of Brittany, were without electricity on Tuesday.

About 150,000 homes in Britain were also without power, with Kent, Surrey and Sussex among the worst affected.

Air, road and rail traffic was disrupted across France, England and Wales. Ferry services in parts of northern Netherlands were disrupted and a number of buildings have been damaged, including the PSV football stadium in the southern city of Eindhoven.

Britain’s Environment Agency has 276 flood alerts and 162 more severe flood warnings in place, almost 120 of which are in southwest and southeast England. The Highways Agency has warned of dozens of road closures and localised flooding.

The French weather service has put 23 departments on orange alert – its second-highest level – for high winds and waves.

London’s Gatwick Airport was expecting disruption, with some flights likely to be diverted to other airports, and Heathrow also warned of problems and urged passengers to check flight details.

Flights to and from the northern French city of Lille were cancelled on Tuesday. Some ferry services across the Channel have been halted as well as services between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The weather was also putting a damper on some holiday activities ahead of Christmas.

Local French officials were advising the organisers of events like Christmas markets and fairgrounds to reinforce their temporary installations.

The park of the chateau de Versailles, the palace built by the “Sun King” Louis XIV and one of France’s top tourist destinations, was closed on Tuesday due to “strong winds,” management said in a Twitter message.

In London, Winter Wonderland – a miniature theme park and Christmas market in Hyde Park – was closed on Monday for safety reasons.

A huge “snow dome” around the capital’s Eros sculpture at Piccadilly Circus deflated during the high winds, reportedly after it was pierced by the figure’s bow, showering the central London square in fake snow. [AFP]