PARIS, Feb 10, 2009 (AFP) - High winds lashed France on Tuesday, prompting authorities to shut Paris' two international airports for the first time in 34 years.
|Boards inform passengers about flights cancellation at Roissy airport, north of Paris, on Feb. 9 as French flights and ferry services have been cancelled Monday (Photo: AFP)|
Winds gusting at up to 140 kilometres (87 miles) per hour were recorded on France's Atlantic coast, with forecasters saying they could reach up to 160 kilometres per hour.
With gusts of up to 100 kilometres per hour expected to hit the Paris region, the authorities closed Paris' airports from 8:00 pm on Monday until 10:00 am (0900 GMT) on Tuesday.
All flights to and from the city's two main airports, Charles de Gaulle (Roissy) and Orly, have been cancelled within that time period and travellers were asked not to head to either of them.
Charles de Gaulle is one of the busiest airports in Europe.
"It's annoying because I work tomorrow, but it's for security reasons," said Jean-Pierre Niros, 57, an Air France passenger at Charles de Gaulle who was supposed to return to the southern city of Nice on Monday.
Air France said it had reserved 2,000 hotel rooms near Charles de Gaulle for passengers, but airport authorities said some 100 passengers were spending the night in transit lounges.
Regional airports in Nantes, Brest and Rennes remained opened, although several flights were cancelled.
The storm comes just two weeks after another that left 11 dead in the southwest.
The long Atlantic coast was expected to be worst hit, with heavy rain and powerful winds, but the entire west and north of the country was in the storm's path, weather forecasters said.
Ferries between Brittany and nearby islands were suspended, operators Oceane and Penn Ar Bedd said, while Brittany Ferries postponed the inaugural sailing Tuesday of its service from Roscoff to Plymouth in southern Britain.
Dispatchers in coastal regions said that emergency services had received dozens of calls for fallen trees and electricity cuts, and several for roof damage, but that the situation was under control.
School bus services were cancelled in some regions over fears of fallen trees, and truck traffic was prohibited near Bordeaux due to the wind.
The French navy has put three rescue vessels on standby to sail to the aid of any shipping in difficulty in the mouth of the Channel, while sandbags have been deployed on sea-fronts exposed to potential flooding.
Air France said it expected serious delays on Tuesday when operations resume at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, but that if the weather forecasts were accurate it would be able to make all scheduled long-haul flights after 10:00 am except for one to New York and one to Beirut.