Hundreds Of Thousands Without Power As Storm Batters France

Massive outage as storm batters France (Adelaide Now, AFP, Dec. 16, 2011):

A STORM has battered north-western France, leaving hundreds of thousands without power, disrupting rail traffic and grounding a ship that spilled oil off the coast of Brittany.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or significant damage as storm Joachim moved further inland to Switzerland and Germany.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant said France had escaped largely unscathed from the storm.

“It seems there have been no victims,” he said, adding that “a certain number” of people living in low-lying areas in Brittany had been evacuated because of the storm.

Officials said 400,000 homes had lost electricity, mainly in the west of the country. By mid-day, the number of homes without electricity had fallen to 330,000 as workers scrambled to restore electricity infrastructure.

The storm had been battering the area since Thursday night, with gusts of wind of up to 133km/h and waves up to 7m high.

The storm caused a cargo ship, the TK Bremen flying the Maltese flag, to run aground and spill some oil into the sea off Brittany early today, officials said.

“The level of pollution is limited,” said local maritime official Marc Gander, adding that regional authorities were deploying equipment to try and contain the slick and to empty the ship of its 190 tonnes of fuel and 50 tonnes of diesel.

All 19 members of the ship’s crew were evacuated by helicopter.

Local prosecutors in Brest said they had opened an investigation into the spill.

Train traffic was disrupted, with more than 15 trains cancelled in central France and significant delays, the French rail authority said.

The storm had little effect on international flights but the strong winds did force some tourist sites to close, including the park at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris and the famed Christmas market in Strasbourg.

The storm was moving its way inland today, with Swiss authorities reporting it caused a train to derail in Switzerland, lightly injuring three people.

“Friday morning a train derailed in the forest near Tramelan,” in the northwest of the mountainous country, police said in a statement.

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