The Heat Is Online

French Windstorm Kills 11, Injures 85

Falling tree kills 11 in France storm

More than 85 others injured at outdoor concert

STRASBOURG, France, July 7 — A storm sent a huge plane tree crashing onto spectators at an outdoor music concert, killing 11 people and injuring 85 others, 17 of them seriously, police said early Saturday.

The mostly teen-age victims were attending an outdoor concert Friday evening at the Chateau Pourtales in picturesque Alsace north of Strasbourg when winds of up to 93 mph suddenly ripped through the area.


Organizers interrupted the show and asked the about 120 concertgoers sitting on bleachers to take refuge under a tent. A huge plane tree, similar to a sycamore, then fell on the tent.

"It wasn’t even raining very hard," a young woman, identified only as Elizabeth, told France Info radio. She had taken shelter under the tent. "Then suddenly the wind came. We heard branches crack, and someone said, ‘Get out of here.’ I was lucky. I got out, and then the tree fell."


Rescuers cut through leafy, soaking branches to get to the injured. Dazed concertgoers wandered aimlessly in the pouring rain looking for friends as firefighters, hampered by the wet conditions, pulled victims out on stretchers.


Astrid Ruff, a singer at the concert, said it was "imprudent" for officials to let the event go ahead despite predictions of bad weather.


"A huge tree fell. And then everything just fell," a shaken Ruff said on LCI television.
Six women and four men, all around the age of 18, were killed immediately. An 11th person died at the hospital later Saturday, authorities in the prefecture of the Bas-Rhin region said.

It was not immediately clear whether the latest victim was among the seven children injured.

FRANTIC PHONE CALLS


"People are calling us frantically," said Michel Lafond, an official at the crisis center hastily set up in this city. "They are searching for their friends, their family members," he said.

He could not give the dimensions of the tree that had caused so much damage.
The organizers had apparently gotten the go-ahead for the concert despite the weather forecast. "I don’t know how you can foresee such a thing," said Philippe Marland, the top government official in the area.

About 100 firefighters and 30 doctors rushed to the scene. Rescuers brought the injured to hospitals in Strasbourg, which is near the French border with Germany.

Last year, the European Center for Yiddish Culture, which put on the concert, was established in Strasbourg, which is 250 miles east of Paris. The center is dedicated to reviving the language spoken by European Jewry before World War II.

FRENCH LEADERS SEND CONDOLENCES

French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin sent condolences to the victims shortly after the accident. Strasbourg Mayor Fabienne Keller arrived to comfort them.

Much of France was hit Friday evening by strong winds and rain. Heavy rains lashed Paris, flooding roads and tunnels and forcing residents of one chic Paris neighborhood to evacuate after their street collapsed. Firefighters received 3,500 calls for help overnight, largely from residents whose basements had flooded.

Earlier in the day, a 5-year-old girl was injured when a mudslide swept through her family’s apartment in Tulle in southwestern France.

France’s national weather service had advised people to stay inside, and to watch for falling trees.

© 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.