Most of France is declared a disaster zone

TWO-THIRDS of France was declared a disaster zone yesterday as emergency workers from Britain and other European countries were called in to repair the devastation caused by unprecedented storms on Sunday and Monday.

The death toll in Western Europe from the storms totalled 122, pushed up after snowstorms brought on by the same weather front caused avalanches in western and central Austria, killing 12 people. In France alone, the death toll from storm-related accidents reached 72.

The French military and reconstruction teams from other European Union countries were mobilised to rebuild scores of high-tension power lines flattened by the 100mph winds which swept northern and southern France on successive days. Nonetheless, more than a million homes face, literally, a gloomy start to the new millennium. The electricity service said it might take weeks to untangle the mess and restore power to all homes. More than a million telephones went dead in rural areas yesterday as emergency batteries in automatic switchboards ran out of power.

Hundreds of roads - including several motorways - were still closed by fallen trees; about one-quarter of the rail network was out of action; there was widespread flooding; tens of thousands of acres of forest lay devastated; many historical monuments, including the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, had been damaged.

Such was the extent of the destruction that the government declared a state of "natural catastrophe" in 60 out of the 94 departements of metropolitan France. It also released pounds 14m for the immediate needs of victims, including pounds 4m for damage caused by the oil slick from the sunken tanker Erika which has now polluted more than 100 miles of the Atlantic coast.

President Jacques Chirac said that the "family that is France" had been "wounded" and must now show "solidarity to treat its injuries". The government pointed out, however, that the vast bulk of the claims for destroyed roofs and other wind damage should be sent to private insurance companies.

The Interior Minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, said that France was facing "a crisis of exceptional proportions", which would cost billions of pounds to put right. The share prices of all French insurance companies have collapsed since the start of the week.

The priority is to rebuild the nation's power grid, about one-quarter of which was destroyed by the storms. Six special cranes and their crews from London Electricity arrived in France yesterday to join the 52,000 people mobilised by Electricite de France (EDF), including army engineers, retired electricity workers and emergency crews from Belgium, Italy and Germany.

EDF said 35 trunk power lines had been brought down, 180 other high-tension lines had been broken, and scores of giant pylons had been shattered or uprooted. Two million homes in the country were still without power yesterday but EDF hoped toreconnect at least half of them before Millennium Eve tomorrow.

Apart from the misery and inconvenience caused to hundreds of thousands of families, the crippling of the power network is beginning to have serious knock-on effects.

Scores of people have been brought to emergency wards across the country suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide fumes after putting emergency generators inside their homes - despite strict instructions to leave them outside.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week