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Severe storms in Europe kill 8, knock out power

By Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000

LONDON -- Torrential rains and high winds left much of southern Britain and northern France in shambles Monday and halted trains, planes and English Channel ferries. At least eight people were killed.

The storms struck Sunday night when a band of low pressure swept in from the Atlantic. Britain's National Meteorological Office said the winds were the strongest in southern England in a decade.

Scores of flights were canceled at London's Heathrow airport -- the world's busiest international travel hub -- and at London's Gatwick, Amsterdam's Schipol and Paris' Charles de Gaulle.

The stormy weather produced two tornadoes, rarities in Britain. Both hit trailer parks on England's southern coast, one in Bognor Regis late Saturday and a second early Monday in nearby Selsey.

British insurance companies said destruction could top that from a storm in January 1990 that did $3-billion worth of damage.

In Paris, city authorities closed 426 gardens and public squares, worried about debris and branches tossed by the high winds.

Eight people -- four in France, three in Britain and one in Ireland -- died during the storms Sunday and Monday, mostly from falling trees.

Six Channel ferries were forced to shelter in a bay on the southeast coast of England after gale-force winds and high seas made docking unsafe at Dover. By late Monday afternoon, all but one ferry had docked, allowing about 4,300 passengers to disembark.

On both sides of the English Channel, history took a beating from the bad weather. At Wolverhampton in central England, the storm wrecked an oak tree that was an offshoot of one used by Charles II to hide in after a battle debacle in 1651. In central Paris, a section of roof on the landmark 19th century Madeleine church was in danger of collapsing, Europe 1 radio reported.

In the heart of London, the winds pulled down three majestic trees along The Mall, the broad avenue leading to Buckingham Palace where so many royal processions are held.

One of London's leading tourist attractions, the Ferris wheel-like London Eye on the banks of the Thames, was shut down.

Hundreds of homes in Wales and the south and west of England were flooded. In the southern village of Norton Fitzwarren, more than 2 feet of river water poured into the Cross Keys pub, surprising patrons and bartenders alike.

"One minute ... I looked out and it was pretty stormy and the next minute there was water up to the door," said Steve Roper, the pub's manager.

More than 100,000 people were without electricity because of downed lines. Flooding prompted authorities in Liverpool to send home more than 2,000 schoolchildren.

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