Bomb-like tornado destroys northern French town

4th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

Mini-tornado creates a path of devastation through the French town of Hautmont.

4 August 2008

HAUTMONT - A freak tornado ripped through towns in northern France overnight, killing three people and injuring nine as it gutted houses and hurled cars through the air, officials said Monday.

Packing violent winds and lashing rain, the flash storm tore across a 10-kilometre swathe late Sunday night, destroying some 40 homes in the space of minutes in Hautmont, the worst-hit of the four towns on its path.

"There was a deep roaring sound, like a bomb raid," local resident Erick Filleur, who was jolted out of his sleep by the storm, told AFP.

"My wife was watching television. Then suddenly my daughter cried out, my shutters exploded and part of our roof flew off."

A woman in her 70s was killed in Hautmont when her house caved in, medics said, while rescue workers Monday pulled the bodies of the deputy mayor and his wife from the rubble of their home.

"The windows of my apartment suddenly blew up. I lay down on the ground, I just thought I was going to die," said Mustapha Rbide, another of the town's 16,000 residents.

His neighbor Samia Sayah said her baby's crib was sent flying around the bedroom by the force of the wind, although the seven-month-old infant was unharmed.

Torn metal sheets, ripped electric cabling, roof tiles, gravel and bricks littered the town's two worst-hit streets Monday morning, as 200 rescue workers with sniffer dogs combed the debris for possible victims.

Red Cross volunteers were handing out hot drinks and biscuits, blankets and clothes as shocked residents wandered through the streets, snapping pictures of the devastation with their mobile phones.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was to travel to Hautmont to survey the storm damage on Monday afternoon, her office said.

Of the nine injured, the two most seriously hurt were in the nearby town of Boussieres-sur-Sambre, as their house was reduced to rubble.

Four elderly people were also taken to hospital for observation after the storm struck a retirement home in Hautmont. The hospital roof in nearby Maubeuge was also damaged.

Local rail traffic was also cut after the storm, which struck at around 11:00 pm (2100 GMT) Sunday, brought down local power lines, according to French rail operator SNCF.

Several dozen elderly residents and a few families spent the night huddled in a local cultural centre turned into a makeshift shelter for the night.

A handful of distraught residents, shocked and some of them injured, were still sheltering there on Monday.

Andree Fouquet, 61, her arm in a sling and both hands in bandages from glass cuts, took refuge there with her 81-year-old mother and 82-year-old aunt, whose house was entirely destroyed.

"You work your whole life, and everything is gone in a few seconds," she said.

[AFP / Expatica]

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