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Western Europe braces for Ciarán impact

PARIS (AP) — Record-breaking winds in France and across much of Western Europe left at least seven people dead and injured others as Storm Ciarán swept through the continent Thursday. The storm devastated homes, causing travel mayhem and cut power to a vast number of people.

Winds of more than 190 kph (118 mph) slammed the northern tip of France’s Atlantic coast, uprooting trees and blowing out windows. Huge waves slammed into French ports and shorelines, as wind flattened street signs and ripped off roofing. Felled trees blocked roads around western France.

A truck driver was killed when his vehicle was hit by a tree in northern France’s inland Aisne region, Transport Minister Clement Beaune said. Meanwhile, a 70-year-old man in the port city of Le Havre, Normandy, died in a fall from his balcony. Local media outlet FranceBleu quoted a prosecutor as saying it appeared the man was closing his shutters against the wind when he fell. Seven of the at least 16 people injured in France were emergency workers.

About 1.2 million French households lost power, electrical utility Enedis said in a statement. That includes about half of the homes in Brittany, the Atlantic peninsula hardest hit by Ciarán. Enedis said it would deploy 3,000 workers to restore power when conditions allowed.

The wind reached up to around 160 kph (nearly 100 mph) on the Normandy coast and up to around 150 kph (90 mph) inland. Fishing crews put their livelihoods on hold and stayed ashore. Local authorities closed forests, parks and beachfronts in some regions.

Local trains were cancelled across a swath of western France, and all roads in the Finistère region of Brittany were closed Thursday morning. Beaune, the transport minister, urged people to avoid driving and exercise caution when traveling across areas with weather warnings.

”We see how roads can be fatal in these circumstances,” he told broadcaster France-Info.

Much of Spain was battered by heavy rains and gale-force winds, city parks were closed, and several trains and flights were cancelled. Emergency services in Madrid said a woman died after a tree fell on her. Three other people were slightly injured in the incident on a city centre street.

Two people were killed by falling tree branches in central Ghent, Belgium, including a 5-year-old child. A 3-year-old was slightly injured in the same incident, said the Ghent prosecutor’s office in a statement. Another branch hit three German tourists in the central Ghent Citadel Park, killing a 64-year-old woman. Her daughter was seriously injured but the father was unhurt.

Belgian media reported a man was seriously injured when a wall collapsed due to the storm in the port city of Antwerp.

A storm warning was issued for the North Sea coast in Germany, and a warning of high winds for part of the Baltic Sea coast. Authorities said a 46-year-old woman was fatally injured by a falling tree in the Harz Mountains in northern Germany.

Thousands were also without power in the United Kingdom. Sharp gusts blew roofs off buildings and toppled trees. Some had to evacuate their homes as Ciarán pummeled the south of England.

Hundreds of schools closed in the southern coastal communities of Cornwall and Devon, as downed trees and flooding hindered morning commutes.

Rail companies urged commuters to work from home if possible because of the potential for falling trees and debris on the tracks. P&O Ferries said tourist traffic was being sent away from the Port of Dover, which has suspended sailings. The roof of a lorry was torn off in the town, local police said, while a major road has been partly closed for public safety.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency urged people to keep away from the coast.

“Stay out of dangerous situations,” the agency tweeted.”A selfie in stormy conditions isn’t worth risking your life for.”

Simon Partridge, senior meteorologist at UK government weather agency the Met Office, said the worst for England appeared to be over by midmorning. The storm is “starting to lose the energy it had when it first arrived,” he said.

Britain’s Environment Agency urged people to prepare for inland flooding, as some river levels remain high and the ground is saturated. By just after midday, there were 82 flood warnings, meaning flooding is expected, and 197 flood alerts, meaning flooding is possible, in place across England.

“Flooding of low-lying coastal roads is also possible and people must avoid driving through flood water, as just 30cm (nearly a foot) of flowing water is enough to move your car,” said the agency’s flood duty manager, Ben Lukey.

The Met Office said the mean sea level pressure reading for England and Wales in November is the lowest ever, breaking a record from 1916.

On the Channel Islands, winds were between 144 kph (90 mph) and 160 kph (100 mph) for a full three hours. They smashed windows, damaged cars and tore roofs from buildings. Flights from airports on the islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney were cancelled.

“The hailstones were quite a bit heavier and bigger than a golf ball and we’ve had three windows damaged by them — in my daughter’s bedroom, a landing and a bathroom,” said Suzie Phillips, a homeowner in Jersey.

Jersey Police tweeted that 35 people were relocated after their homes were damaged and three others were hospitalised. They said trees were down across the island.

Dutch media reported that several people had been hit by falling trees in the Netherlands. One person was killed in the southern town of Venray.

Washed ashore boats may on the sand on the beach of Pornichet, Brittany, Thursday, Nov 2, 2023. PHOTO: AP