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Storm Ciarán whips Western Europe, blowing record winds in France and leaving millions without power

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Waves crash behind a fishing boat at Folkestone harbour, England, Thursday, Nov, 2, 2023, as Storm Ciaran brings high winds and heavy rain along the south coast of England.
Waves crash behind a fishing boat at Folkestone harbour, England, Thursday, Nov, 2, 2023, as Storm Ciaran brings high winds and heavy rain along the south coast of England. (Gareth Fuller/PA via AP) Photo Gallery

PARIS (AP) — Recording-breaking winds in France and across much of Western Europe left at least five people dead and injured several others as Storm Ciarán swept through the continent overnight and into Thursday, plunging vast numbers into darkness, devastating homes and causing travel mayhem in several countries.

Winds of more than 190 kph (118 mph) slammed the northern tip of France’s Atlantic coast, uprooting trees and blowing out windows.

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. Another person has been badly injured at a university in the northern city of Roubaix, and 15 other people were hurt around western and northern France, authorities announced. Seven of the injured were emergency workers.

Dutch airline KLM scrapped all flights leaving and arriving in the Netherlands from the early afternoon until the end of the day, citing the high sustained wind speeds and powerful gusts expected in the country.

Huge waves slammed into French ports and shorelines, as wind flattened street signs and ripped off roofing. Felled trees blocked roads around western France, according to Associated Press reporters and images on French media and social networks.

About 1.2 million French households were left without electricity on Thursday, 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 canceled across a swath of western France, and all roads in the Finistère region of Brittany were closed Thursday morning. Beaune 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.

In Spain, where the storm battered much of the country with heavy rains and gale force winds, emergency services in Madrid said a woman died Thursday after a tree fell on her. Three other people were slightly injured in the incident on a city center street. Parks in the capital and other cities in Spain were closed, and several trains and flights were canceled.

One person died in central Ghent, Belgium, when a tree fell on them in a park. Another person was injured during the same incident. Local and national authorities warned residents not to get close to green spaces for fear of falling trees. Belgian media also reported that in the port city of Antwerp, one man was seriously injured when a wall collapsed under the pressure from the relentless high winds.

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 that 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 and seek refuge in hotels as Ciarán pummeled the south of England.

Hundreds of schools stayed closed in the southwest England coastal communities of Cornwall and Devon, as downed trees and flooding hindered morning commutes all across the southeast.

Rail companies urged commuters to work from home if possible because of possible 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 U.K. government weather agency the Met Office, said just after 1330 GMT (9:30 a.m. EDT) that for England at least, “thankfully the worst of it is over.”

“The storm itself is off the East Anglian Coast, it’s just gone into the southern North Sea, and … it’s starting to lose the energy it had when it first arrived,” he said.

The area of low pressure was now filling, Partridge explained, saying the system would continue to weaken over the next 12 hours.

But a lot of rain associated with the storm was still to fall, he cautioned, singling out North Wales, the West Midlands and East Coast for downpours.

“We’re not quite out of the woods just yet,” he added.

Britain’s Environment Agency urged people to prepare for inland flooding, as some river levels remain high, together with ground that 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.

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“Flooding of low-lying coastal roads is also possible and people must avoid driving through flood water, as just 30cm 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 which had stood since 1916.

And Partridge said the battering taken by the Channel Islands was “very much on par” with that seen in the so-called Great Storm of 1987, which caused devastation across the U.K.

On the islands last night, 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 canceled.

“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. “It was quite worrying, especially for the kids — they were quite anxious about it.”

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

Dutch media reported that several people had been hit by falling trees in different parts of the Netherlands, one person killed in the southern town of Venray. The eighth edition of the Dutch headwind cycling championship was swiftly organized for riders prepared to pedal into the teeth of the storm Thursday along an 8½-kilometer (5.3-mile) coastal barrier on bikes with no gears.

The event is only held when a southwesterly storm with a minimum of wind force seven barrels up the North Sea coast.

But the winds are so strong that a permit was denied. Organizer Robrecht Stoekenbroek said he was “super disappointed.”

“We are organizing this event because it’s so crazy,” he said. “It’s about man against nature and it (the wind) needs to be like this.”

The heart of the storm will move east during the day, forecasters said.