Thousands of rescue workers in France are continuing to search for survivors after violent storms on Saturday devastated large parts of western Europe.
With at least 50 people killed, France’s Atlantic coast was hardest hit by the storm, known as Xynthia.
Hurricane-force winds flooded ports and destroyed homes, leaving a million households without electricity and with little else.
Emergency shelters will now be home for some survivors, many of whom have harrowing tales of how they made it through the night.
“We managed to smash a hole in the roof and stay in the attic. We’re a family of four and we waited until the next morning, hoping that the water level would go down but it continued to rise apparently,” said one man.
But others were not so lucky. Single storey houses were submerged within minutes.
Initial reports suggested the damage was caused by an rare combination of 160-kilometre per hour winds and a high tide. Together the wind and water smashed sea walls, turning the western Vendée region into a flood zone.
The coastal town of L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer was the
hardest hit area. As many as 25 bodies have been recovered after a dike collapsed, causing sudden overnight flooding that trapped many people in their beds.
Many of the victims were elderly people caught off guard while they slept.
France has declared a national disaster and its
President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced an emergency three million-euro fund to help stricken communities rebuild.