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Jan 13, 11:49 AM EST

Storms in France kill woman on school run, injure dozens


AP Photo
AP Photo/Bob Edme

PARIS (AP) -- Violent winds and winter storms hit France on Friday, killing a 43-year-old woman taking her kids to school in southern France and injuring nearly 50 other people in the north.

Elsewhere in Europe, British authorities put the military on standby for the possibility of flooding along the east coast and the Vatican sheltered homeless people in a church from unusually cold weather in Rome.

The woman killed in the hills above the southern French city of Nice was hit on the head as a tall Cypress tree snapped in a powerful gust as she left her house to take her children to school, said Lt. Col. Dominique Blasius of the Alpes-Maritimes region.

"This happened in front of her children," he said.

The children called their father. He used a chain saw to try to free his wife from the fallen tree, but she was already dead when a fire crew arrived, Blasius said.

In northern France, strong winds blew a tree onto tracks between Paris and Brussels, stranding passengers on a high-speed Thalys train. The 210 passengers spent the night without electricity, heat or liquids. The track was subsequently cleared.

France's Interior Ministry said nearly 50 people were injured overnight in weather-related accidents, although none seriously.

The worst-hit areas included Normandy and Picardy where, respectively, 76,000 homes and 61,000 homes were without electricity on Friday. Emergency services were called out over 4,040 times to deal with the storms' impact.

Along Britain's eastern coast, flood warnings were issued and troops were standing by.

"The combination of gale-force winds, high tides, dangerous waves carrying rocks and a coastal surge means parts of the east coast are extremely dangerous," said Environment Agency national duty manager Mark Sitton-Kent.

In Rome, nighttime temperatures have dropped below freezing. The Vatican said around 30 people - both Italians and foreigners - had accepted an invitation to sleep inside St. Calixtus Church, which is Vatican property.

Inside the church's cold stone interior, the homeless kept warm with sleeping bags, blankets and electric heaters.

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Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed.

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