France, Spain still shaken by storms; at least 20 dead

Monday, January 26, 2009
BOB EDME ~ Associated Press
Rene Texerea views the damage Saturday after a tree fell onto his house in Tarnos, France, as a winter storm spread across southwestern France. A powerful storm is lashing the coast of southwestern France and state-run electricity generator EdF says a million homes are without power. Rescue teams fanned out as winds of up to 109 mph pounded the area.

PARIS -- French authorities deployed 10,000 cleanup and recovery workers and Spain let evacuated villagers return home Sunday, a day after deadly storms pounded southwest France and northeast Spain.

Authorities in Spain reported at least 12 deaths linked to the storm, including four children crushed as a sports facility buckled in high winds in Barcelona. In France, at least eight people died -- including two couples who died of carbon-monoxide poisoning from generators they had turned on as power outages swept the region, officials said.

Chain saws buzzed and clearing crews fanned out on both sides of the French-Spanish border as workers cut through felled trees on homes, power lines, rail tracks and roadways and took away debris Sunday.

"The issue today is to restore electricity as quickly as possible," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters at a crisis response center in Bordeaux, adding that 10,000 people including rescue teams, state officials, civil security workers and others had been deployed in France.

ERDF, an Electricite de France subsidiary, said it had managed to restore power to 900,000 customers among 1.7 million who initially were hit with the blackout Saturday. Tens of thousands of homes in Spain were without electricity.

In France, rail operator SNCF said service was gradually returning in the region after 900 miles of rail had been affected by the storm.

In Spain, the bullet-train link between Madrid and Barcelona was restored as debris was cleared off the track, but services into France won't resume Sunday, state rail operator Renfe said.

In Spain, aircraft battled forest fires near the eastern town of La Nucia that the town's mayor said was caused when winds blew down a high-tension power pylon in a wooded area.

About 14,000 people who had been evacuated from several villages near the burning hills were being allowed to return to their homes, regional government counselor Serafin Castellano said.

Leisure park Terra Natura, south of Valencia, said staffers evacuated some of its animals -- which include jaguars, elephants, armadillos and monkeys -- from their enclosures, and hailed firefighters who helped keep away flames that had surrounded the safari park on Saturday.

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