15 die as storms wreak havoc in France and Spain
Four children killed when sports centre collapses in Barcelona, and a million people left without power
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Sunday 25 January 2009
Fifteen people, including four children, died as violent storms swept across Spain and France, wrecking buildings, and knocking out power for more than a million people.
The children were killed when the roof of a sports centre collapsed during high winds in Sant Boi de Llobregat, near Barcelona, yesterday morning. "It was horrific," said Jose Antonio Godina, a parent at the sports centre. "We heard a loud noise and we thought a tree had fallen on a roof. But when we got here, the roof of the annex had literally flown off and the walls had fallen in on them." Up to 30 children were inside the building when it collapsed, local authorities said. Catalonian emergency services said four children had died and nine people had been injured.
Four adults died elsewhere in northern Spain. A policeman was killed by a falling tree in Galicia, a 51-year-old man was killed by a falling wall in Alicante, a 52-year-old woman also died when a wall collapsed on her in Barcelona, and another man was killed by a falling tree.
In France, gales cut power supplies to more than one million homes and closed roads, railways and airports. Local authorities in the Landes region said one person was killed and one seriously injured when a tree fell on a car.
Winds of up to 108mph on the coast and 100mph inland paralysed south-west France. The French weather agency Météo France placed the region under red alert and asked residents to stay indoors. "If you must go out, use extreme caution," it said. The Interior Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, said she had ordered that 700 extra security forces be sent to the region to help with rescue efforts and that extra equipment also be sent to help clear roads. The airports at Bordeaux, Biarritz, Pau and Toulouse were closed, officials said.
Spanish authorities warned people to stay away from beaches as 26ft-high waves pounded the coast. The northern province of Cantabria and the Catalonia region in the north-east remained on alert. The Provalys, a tanker carrying liquefied natural gas was in difficulties off the French coast, but a company spokesman later said it was under control.
The national power grid manager, Électricité Réseau Distribution France, said nearly 1.2 million homes were cut off. "Access to certain parts of the grid that are affected by the bad weather is particularly difficult because of fallen trees," ERDF said in a statement.
France's Agriculture Minister, Michel Barnier, said the storm was "the worst since 1999" when violent weather killed 88 people and left nearly four million without electricity. It took more than three weeks for ERDF to restore power to all customers. "It is likely that this storm will affect a smaller geographical area than in 1999, but it is expected to be of a similar intensity," Météo France said.
The French state railway company SNCF said it had been forced to halt services completely in the Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrenees regions. It also said high-speed TGV trains from Bordeaux had been stopped.
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