Hurricane force winds wreak havoc across northern France

A POWERFUL storm packing hurricane-force winds lashed northern France yesterday, killing two people and forcing officials to close down the Eiffel Tower and the famed Paris parks.

A Parisian woman died when her car was crushed by a tree and a man was decapitated by flying sheet metal, officials said.

Rescue workers in Paris closed the famed Sainte-Chapelle monument, renowned for its stained glass windows, because a stone angel on its roof risked being toppled by the gusts. Paris City Hall then ordered the Eiffel Tower to be closed as well as Paris parks and outdoor ice skating rinks.

Three people were reported missing in the Breton port of Brest. Traffic on the TGV fast train between Paris and Lille was interrupted. Winds clocked at up to 80 mph pounded northern France, prompting authorities to raise the nation’s weather alert to orange - one below the highest of the four levels.

The storm cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes and caused major disruption to air, rail and road traffic.

Temporary ice-skating rinks set up in the Eiffel Tower and in front of the City Hall were closed, as were parks, cemeteries and gardens. The famous Chateau of Versailles near Paris was also shut and visitors were quickly evacuated. The property is still recovering from a 1999 storm which uprooted more than 10,000 trees on its manicured grounds.

The main Paris airports of Charles de Gaulle and Orly were also hit, prompting delays of an hour for around 50 flights and some cancellations. Many trains in northern France were brought to a standstill.

The state electricity company EDF said power was cut in 260,000 homes, and emergency services said they had received thousands of call-outs because of falling tiles, branches and downed power lines.

An unidentified man believed to belong to a Gypsy community was also killed when a tile torn off a roof cut off his head in the western suburb of Vernouillet, officers said. Falling trees injured the occupants of a car in the northern village of Roye and a driver and passenger in a vehicle in the southwestern Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud.

In Normandy, a high bridge spanning the Seine was buffeted by winds that knocked over a truck and a caravan, without causing injuries.

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