Violent Winter Storm Batters France and 4 Other European Countries, 51 Killed

A violent late-winter storm with fierce rain and hurricane-strength winds ripped across Western Europe on Sunday, battering France and four other countries, leaving at least 51 people dead.

The storm, Xynthia, was the worst in France since 1999, when 90 people died. Prime Minister François Fillon held an emergency cabinet meeting and afterward called the storm a "national catastrophe."

Many of the at least 45 victims in France drowned, while others died when they were hit by parts of buildings or trees and branches that were ripped off by the wind. At least a dozen people were missing Sunday and 59 others were injured, The Associated Press reports.

According to Press TV, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also due to visit the storm-battered Atlantic coast.

Xynthia has also caused casualties in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Belgium, damaging houses, collapsing roads and disrupting transportation.

The torrential rains driven by hurricane-force gales of up to 140km an hour (87mph) have now swept northeastwards into the Netherlands and the Swiss Alps.

EDF, the French electricity firm, said around half a million clients would be without power during Sunday night, as Fillon confirmed it could take days to restore electricity to all of those affected.

Weather forecasters tracked the storm as it eventually passed into Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands on Sunday evening, RFI reports.

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