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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing and Business Development Officer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hull based charity providing except...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Female Support Worker

£9464 - £10396 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will ne...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future