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France is seeking emergency aid from the European Union after the fiercest storms in a decade which left 47 people dead.

Hurricane-force winds and widespread flooding battered vast swaythes of western France and left more than a million homes without power.

One survivor told how she swam out of her house through her bathroom window before seeking safety on a neighbour’s roof in the Vendee region on ther Atlantic coast.

Hundreds more residents sought shelter in their attics and on rooves before being plucked to safety by helicopters.

Trees were uprooted and 30ft high waves surged inland as the storm named Xynthia swepy eastwards across the country.

In Paris, where hundreds of buildings were damaged, a wind speed of 100mph was recrded at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

The storm, which also claimed at least six more lives in Spain and Portgul, then swept inland towards Belgium and Germany.

The trail of devastation was described as a ‘national distaster’ by prime minister Francois Fillon

President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and praised the work of rescuers. He is due to visit worst hit areas.

Brice Hortefeux, the interior minister, said the French government had set aside one million euros in immediate relief aid, and said France will also ask the EU to release funds from its regional budget.

Mr Hortefeux added: “By Monday morning, 47 people are known to have been killed and hundreds more are injured.”

Major Samuel Bernes, a spokesman for the government rescue operation, added: “This toll is evolving minute by minute and is likely to get worse as our reconnaissance takes us further inland, into houses and car parks.”

The storm originated in the Iberian peninsula on Saturday before sweeping north and east across the continent.

In Germany, a motorist in the Black Forest, a female jogger in the western town of Bergheim and a man walking in a forest west of Frankfurt were all killed by falling trees.

In Spain, regional authorities said two men aged 51 and 41 died when their car was hit by a falling tree. An 82-year-old woman was killed on Saturday when a wall collapsed in the Galicia region.

In Portugal, a 10-year-old boy was killed by the falling branch of a tree as he waited outside a church to go to a prayer meeting.

Portugal’s northern cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia issued flood warnings as the Douro river threatened to break its banks.

Xynthia was making its way towards Denmark early today but was predicted to ease in intensity, European weather forcasters said. Telegraph

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