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21 April 2024

Britain on flood alert as windstorms batter France

Severe windstorms left hundreds of thousands of homes without power across parts of France on Tuesday and forced authorities to shut down Paris' two main airports while Britain went on flood alert.

Hurricane-force gusts of up to 140 kilometres per hour battered France's west coast late Monday as the second major storm in two weeks barrelled in from the Atlantic.

Bracing for severe winds, authorities shut down Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports overnight for the first time in 34 years, cancelling more than 200 flights.

The airport reopened at 10:00 am (0900 GMT) but Air France reported major delays for all incoming and outgoing flights.

The storm left some 900,000 homes without electricity late Monday and by midday Tuesday 400,000 households were still without power in central, eastern and northern France, the grid operator ERDF said.

French emergency services were called out hundreds of times to clear fallen trees and debris from roads, but there were no reports of casualties or major injuries.

French weather services were forecasting severe winds of up to 120 kilometres per hour later Tuesday in eastern France, but the storm was expected to peter out as it moved towards Germany and Belgium.

Air France said it put up 3,000 travellers in hotel rooms near Charles de Gaulle, one of Europe's busiest airports, and around 100 people spent the night in transit lounges, airport officials said.

In Britain, heavy rains and melting snow disrupted road and rail links and fuelled fears of flooding across parts of England and Wales, while storm-force winds contributed to delayed flights.

By 1400 GMT there were 276 flood warnings in place in England and Wales, including one severe flood warning in the Anglian region of eastern England, according to Britain's environment agency.

London's Thames Barrier was also closed to protect the British capital from a rising tide, and was expected to remain shut for most of the day, the agency said.

Up to 3,000 homes were left without electricity in parts of western England as a band of snow stretched from south Wales into the Midlands.

Still reeling from a major storm that left 11 people dead on France's southwest Atlantic coast on January 24, French authorities had spared no effort to prepare for the latest tempest.

School bus services were cancelled preemptively in several parts of France, and truck traffic was banned in several areas.

The French navy put three rescue vessels on standby to sail to the aid of ships in difficulty in the mouth of the Channel, and sandbags were deployed on sea fronts exposed to flood risks.

Ferries between Brittany and nearby islands were suspended, while Brittany Ferries postponed the inaugural sailing Tuesday of its service from Roscoff to Plymouth in southern Britain.

Bristol airport in southwest England was closed overnight because of heavy snowfall, with eight outbound flights and several inbound flights cancelled or diverted to other airports.