LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Hurricane-force winds and torrential rain disrupted transport networks and cut power supplies in Britain and France on Tuesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year just before Christmas, pushing the death toll to at least six people.
Winds of up to 90 mph hit both sides of the Channel with heavy downpours causing flooding, traffic jams, and cancellations of rail, flight and ferry services.
In Britain the number of people killed in two days of storms rose to at least five after a man died trying to rescue his dog from fast-flowing waters in Devon, southwest England. A teenager died in France on Monday after a wall collapsed on him.
Airports in southern England were disrupted, with some flights from Britain’s busiest airport, Heathrow, canceled or delayed. Britain’s second busiest airport, Gatwick, said one terminal had been hit by a major power outage on Tuesday and storm damage had temporarily cut all trains to the airport.
Passengers on a train heading to Plymouth in Devon spent the night stranded in the town of Taunton, tweeting photos of their ‘bed’, a seat, but praising staff.
British train operators canceled hundreds of services on Tuesday morning, by which time the storm had abated, leaving hundreds of thousands of people scrambling to get onto later services in and out of London.
The weather was expected to hurt British retailers, eager to cash in on the traditional pre-Christmas rush.
“Given retailers’ hopes that the last couple of days before Christmas would see a final strong surge in sales, the awful weather could not have come at a worse time,” IHS analyst Howard Archer said.
Brittany and Normandy were among the regions worst hit in France, where 240,000 homes lost electricity, while in southern England, 150,000 homes were cut off from the power grid, according to the Energy Networks Association.
Spokeswoman Morven Smith from energy company Southern Electric told BBC Radio that some customers would be without power on Christmas Day.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “I‘m across plans to get electricity to many without power. My thoughts are with them and those facing travel problems this Christmas Eve.”
Among those killed by the storm was a 48-year-old man who drowned on Monday in the Rothay River near Ambleside, Cumbria, in northern England.
A woman’s body was found in a river in North Wales on Monday, another woman died in a three-car crash in Shropshire blamed on the difficult driving conditions while a body, yet to be identified, was found in a stream by a dogwalker in Telford.
In France, a teenager was killed and another seriously injured on Monday when a wall in a building site collapsed in Normandy. Naval authorities said a Russian sailor was reported missing after being blown overboard a cargo ship off the coast of Brest in western Brittany.
France’s SNCF national rail service reported numerous delays but said no rail lines had been put out of service so far.
Britain’s Environment Agency said flooding was expected to affect much of the country, with 245 flood alerts, 125 flood warnings and one severe flood warning in place. Some towns in France’s Brittany region also faced severe flooding.
Britain’s weather forecasting agency, the Met Office, said conditions would ease on Christmas Day and Boxing Day but warned of further wet and stormy weather on Friday, causing more headaches for retailers during “the sales”, the usually busy post-Christmas discounting period.
Reporting by Sarah Young, Belinda Goldsmith and Kate Holton in London, and Yann Le Guernigou, Benjamin Mallet and Mark John in Paris; Editing by Gareth Jones