1 Mar 2010

France declares national disaster after violent storms

10:01 pm on 1 March 2010

France has declared a national disaster after violent storms battered parts of the country at the weekend.

At least 50 people have been killed in the storms that have swept parts of Spain, Portugal and France, the BBC reports.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to visit the Atlantic coast where 45 people have died. Many victims drowned or were hit by parts of buildings or falling trees.

The Atlantic storm, named Xynthia, smashed into the western coasts of France, Portugal and Spain with torrential rain driven by winds of up to 140km/h.

The weather system has swept north-eastwards into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. There have also been reports of high winds in the Swiss Alps.

In France, Xynthia put five of the country's 95 departments on red alert - only the second such warning since a new emergency system was introduced in 2001.

More than 1 million homes in France have lost electricity, from the Brittany peninsula in the west to the highlands of the Massif Central.

At least a dozen people are said to be missing in France and at least 59 others are injured.