Wild Christmas storms claim at least five lives


Britain also suffered in the storms that wrought havoc in Ireland over the Christmas holiday. A trawler with five people aboard is missing in waters off the Welsh coast and five people were killed in other accidents.

North England and Wales were the areas worst hit by winds of up to 100 m.p.h., which blacked out tens of thousands of homes. The Meteorological Office predicted blustery weather and showers but no gales for the rest of the weekend.

Electricity supplies were restored to most affected homes in Britain yesterday when the winds died down, allowing emergency repairs and clear-up operations.

A father and daughter were among three people killed when a 60ft tree fell on their Ford Fiesta near Blackwood, Gwent, just after midnight on Thursday. Mr Gerald Ross (61), his daughter, Ruth, and her boyfriend, David White, both in their 20s, all came from the Gelligaer area. Two other passengers suffered minor injuries.

A police spokesman said officers were shocked by the scene. "The tree had crushed the car to body level and it was hard to make out who was inside. It was a freak, tragic accident."

A 32-year-old Stoke-on-Trent woman was killed when a tree fell on her car as she drove to visit friends on the Wirral, Merseyside. Another woman died in a multiple car pile-up police said was caused by the violent storm overnight from Wednesday to Thursday. Flowers have been left at the scene where a woman died and her passenger was injured in the accident involving a VW Belmont in the Penny Lane area of Liverpool.

As prospects of finding the five grew dimmer, the Milford Haven Coastguard said it was co-ordinating the search for a missing French trawler and its five-man crew 60 km off the coast of south Wales.

A Royal Air Force Nimrod aircraft, three helicopters and a fleet of English and French vessels were being used to look for the Toul-An-Trez in rough seas with waves of up to six metres (19 ft).

The first clue the trawler from the Brittany port of Camaret was missing came from satellite notification that an emergency beacon carried by the boat had been activated.

"We are extremely concerned for the safety of this crew, particularly at this family time," said the Coastguard watch manager, Mr Keith John. "The beacon has been located in the water but there is no other signs of the vessel."

Police and motoring organisations across Britain warned people not to drive unless the journey was absolutely necessary. Heavy rains made driving difficult and more high winds were expected.

Authorities said 35,000 homes lost power in the overnight storm in north-west England and Wales, although power crews had restored service to some by midday.

However, only a short flight away in Brussels strong warm winds gave Belgium its warmest Christmas Day since records began in 1830, the Belgian media reported yesterday.

The newspaper, La Derniere Heure, said a record high of 13.6 Celsius (56.48 Fahrenheit) was officially measured on Thursday.

However, strong winds also caused property damage and disrupted traffic around the capital. The popular outdoor Christmas ice rink in the majestic Grand Place in the heart of the Belgian capital melted, forcing its closure.