Fires and avalanche alerts as Storm Eleanor batters Europe

The French Alps were on maximum avalanche alert Thursday as Storm Eleanor swept through Europe, killing at least five people and fanning rare winter wildfires in Corsica.

With the mountains packed with skiers for the school holidays, major resort Val d’Isere closed its runs for the day because of heavy snowfall, while Chamonix said it was shutting many of its lifts as a precautionary measure.

“The objective is to keep everyone safe,” said David Ponson, ski chief in the Alpine Savoie region, as many pistes were shut for a second day.

At the other extreme, nearly 400 firefighters on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica were battling blazes fanned by Eleanor’s strong gusts of wind, with three people injured in a fire overnight.

Three hundred goats were killed in the blaze at Chiatra-Canale di Verde near the island’s east coast and 10 homes burnt — five of them completely destroyed, local authorities said.

The prefecture added that the intensity of the blazes was “exceptional in the middle of winter.” Troops from the local airbase have been deployed to help fight the flames.

Eleanor, the fourth winter storm to hit Europe since December, swept into the continent on Wednesday after battering Britain and Ireland.

It has left at least five people dead, including a 21-year-old skier hit by a falling tree in France and a couple in their 60s swept away on Spain’s northern Basque coast by a huge wave.

On Thursday in the French Alps, firefighters said a woman in her 90s died of a heart attack in Crets-en-Belledonne after floods sent a torrent of mud and water into her home.

And a farmer in Savoie was found dead under a snowslide.

Meanwhile a French volunteer firefighter was reported missing after rushing to help when a car plunged into an overflowing river in the Alpine village of Le Moutaret.

At Lenk in central Switzerland, eight people were hurt when a violent gust of wind overturned a railway carriage.

– Damage worth millions –

In the Netherlands, Eleanor has dealt about 10 million euros ($12 million) of damage to buildings and cars, the Dutch insurers’ union estimated, cited by public television.

The whole of Spain’s northern coast remained on “orange” alert — the second highest on a four-point scale — because of the risk from strong winds and large waves.

More than 40 towns in southwestern Spain have meanwhile brought forward their annual Epiphany feast parades — celebrating the coming of the three wise men with gifts for Jesus — to Thursday because of heavy rain forecast for Friday.

The worst of the storm appeared to have passed by Thursday, though much of eastern France was still on “orange” alert for heavy winds, floods and avalanches.

“The intensity of the rain and melting snow bring a risk of floods via overflowing streams and mudslides,” warned forecaster Cecile Coleou.

Power had been restored to homes in France by Thursday evening, except for around 2,000 residences in Corsica, French electricity companies said.

Germany lowered its alert for violent winds Wednesday evening, but high tides were worrying several states, including in the Moselle Valley where heavy downpours have halted boat traffic.

The Rhine river was set to surge to seven metres (23 feet) on Thursday and was still rising, the Bild newspaper reported. River traffic will be suspended if it hits 8.3 metres.

The storm had snarled air traffic on Wednesday, briefly shutting the Strasbourg and Basel-Mulhouse airports and delaying departures from Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.

It also played havoc with road and rail transport, leaving branches, electrical lines and other debris strewn across tracks and highways.


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