Storm batters southern France, Christmas flights cancelled

PARIS Wed Dec 25, 2013 12:49pm EST

PARIS (Reuters) - Powerful winds and torrential rain swept southern France on Wednesday, grounding flights and cutting off power to tens of thousands of homes.

About 50,000 homes across the country were without electricity by 1230 ET on Christmas Day due to ruptured power lines and widespread flooding in the northwestern Brittany region, said France's ERDF power distributor.

Repair work by some 2,000 technicians throughout the day restored power to some 70,000 homes.

The international airport at Nice remained shut, with all but a few incoming and outgoing flights cancelled until at least 1700 ET due to poor visibility and conditions on the runway, interim director Valerie Wack said.

"Only sixteen planes were able to take off today," she said. "The airlines are deciding case-by-case whether it's possible to take off."

Hurricane-force winds have lashed France and Britain, causing five deaths in Britain and one in France. Heavy downpours led to cancellations of rail, flight and ferry services. Thousands of Britons woke up to flooding and power cuts on Wednesday.

The storm had subsided in the north of France on Wednesday but continued to batter southeastern France and the Mediterranean coastline, though winds were less powerful.

Meteo France, the national weather office, maintained an "Orange" alert level for weather-related danger - its second-highest - in Brittany and a small part of southeastern France but declared other regions mostly calm.

However, it warned a new storm front could hit northern France and Britain on Friday, with hurricane-force winds that are expected to sweep over Ireland, northern Britain and the western coast of Norway.

(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Pravin Char and David Evans)

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