Storms kill 50 across Europe

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UP TO 50 people were killed in torrential rain and winds of up to 125mph that swept across Europe at the weekend. Five died in Britain, while France suffered the brunt of the winds, with the toll there rising to 24 by last night.

In Paris a couple died when a chimney stack crashed into their apartment on the outskirts of the city. Their newborn baby was found alive in the ruins. Other victims were crushed by falling trees. Although high winds had been predicted, French forecasters were surprised by their severity and direction.

Six people staying at a hotel in the Disneyland Paris theme park were injured by falling trees. The resort said 2,500 guests were evacuated from the Davy Crockett Ranch hotel for safety reasons. Disneyland later closed its theme park because of safety fears.

A German boy of 13 and a Belgian girl of 18 were among 10 people killed in Switzerland. A tree crashed into a cable and sent their gondola plunging to the ground at Crans Montana ski resort. An elderly man was blown to his death south of Zurich while try to repair his roof and a six-year- old boy died in a car accident caused by storms. Germany reported at least 11 deaths from car accidents and falling trees.

Hundreds of homes across Britain were still at risk of flooding last night after a weekend which saw five people killed, including a crewman who died after a Belgian cargo ship was hit by heavy seas eight miles south of the Isles of Scilly. An 85-year-old man died on Christmas Eve after being trapped in his flooded bungalow. On Merseyside, a man who was swept off a promenade into the river early hours yesterday later died in hospital after suffering a suspected heart attack.

A Ukrainian sailor was missing after falling overboard from a cargo vessel mid-Channel in rough seas yesterday morning. Northern Ireland and Scotland endured extreme weather of a different kind, with snow and ice causing misery.

In Austria eight people were injured - two seriously - when a British bus skidded off a snow-covered road down a Tyrol mountainside.

Storms reaching 100mph in places confounded elaborate plans by French authorities to defend beaches from a large oil spill in the Bay of Biscay. Barriers had been assembled at La Rochelle but the storms pushed the oil from the sunken tanker Erika on to the relatively unprotected Breton coast. More than 10,000 birds were said to have been covered in oil as the spill came ashore in hundreds of slicks from Finisterre to the Loire estuary.

Officials and volunteers in Brittany said the extent of the pollution by the thick, barely liquid, oil was "sickening".

Farther north, the Paris area and lower Normandy took the brunt of the gales. Many of those who died were crushed when trees fell on their cars on Christmas night or early yesterday. A woman died on the A4 Paris-Metz motorway near Rheims when her camper van was turned over by the wind. Another was blown into Le Havre harbour and drowned.

Both Paris airports closed briefly, all trains in the city area were halted yesterday morning and motorways and main roads to the west of Paris were closed for most of the day.

Police barred cars and pedestrians from the Champs-Elysees because of flying roof tiles; 1.5 million homes were without electricity.

Last night experts said the weather was moving east towards the Balkans, where people in Kosovo and Serbia are ill- prepared to face it with make- shift accommodation and restricted fuel.