Storms Hit France, UK, Switzerland

February 10, 2009

A storm swept across northern France on Tuesday, cutting off more than 600,000 homes from the power grid, while high winds and gales hit Britain and Switzerland.

It was the second major storm to hit France in less than three weeks after gale force winds killed four people and left close to 2 million homes without power on Jan. 24 in the southwest of the country.

In an unusual precautionary measure, authorities halted all air traffic in the Paris region on Monday evening. Planes were scheduled to start flying again from 10 a.m. (0900 GMT).

Meteo France, the weather forecast agency, said winds of up to 140 kph (87 mph) had buffeted the northwestern coast, while inland gusts of up to 120 kph had been recorded.

The manager of the power grid, Electricite Reseau Distribution France, still struggling to mend power lines in the southwest after the first storm, said a total of 608,000 homes were cut off across the northern regions of the country as trees and electricity pylons fell down.

The worst-hit areas were a belt of regions along the center of the country, the coastal Pays de la Loire, where Nantes is located, the region around Orleans, just to the east, and Burgundy, further east.

Meteo France said the weather was less intense than the Jan. 24 storm but affected a wider swathe of the country and would last longer. It expected the storm to move east of France by 1800 GMT.

In Brittany and along the Vendée coast, bridges to certain islands were shut down because they were too risky in the winds, but few other transport disruptions were reported.

Switzerland was swept by high winds on Monday night and Tuesday morning, with gales reaching up to 150 kph in the Jura Mountains on the border with France.

Winds were expected to strengthen during the day, moving east into the more densely populated areas of the country.

Storms swept Britain on Tuesday bringing heavy rain, fierce winds and more snow and sleet in some areas, raising the risk of serious flooding.

The Environment Agency issued 95 flood warnings, mostly in southern and southwest England with a severe one issued for parts of Anglia.

As heavy rain swept across the south, some areas recorded close to their monthly average rainfall for February in 24 hours, forecasters said.

More snow has been falling in the Midlands, east Wales and Gloucestershire, where at least 3,000 homes have been left without electricity.

Tuesday was forecast to begin with rain, sleet, snow and strong winds in the southeast, the Met Office said.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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