France is seeking emergency aid from the European Union today following the weekend’s deadly storm in which some 50 people died.
Xynthia took its greatest toll as it slammed into the Atlantic coastal regions of Vendée and Charente Maritime on Saturday night accompanied by high tides.
A survivor described how she swam out of her house via her bathroom. She then climbed on to concrete pillars where she and her husband spent the night lying flat so as to reduce the impact of the high winds.
They waited there until they were finally rescued in the morning. They are among the lucky ones. Others did not have time to get out and drowned in their own homes.
A woman looks anxiously across a flooded road to a dormer window from where her parents wave at her, patiently waiting to be rescued.
“They have been stuck in their attic since four this morning,” she says. “They still haven’t been rescued and I heard the tide might rise again. I’m very worried. They have no electricity and they’re in their seventies.”
The extent of the damage is pushing rescue services to the limit. Firemen patrol by boat, marking the houses they have checked for survivors or victims with “vu”, the French word for “seen”.
The government has labelled the area a “natural catastrophe” – half a million people are without electricity and infrastructure has been badly hit.
Xynthia claimed four lives in Spain and Portugal before reaching France – and then continued its deadly course.