France: Storm Toll Rises To 80

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It's going to be a cold, dark and uncomfortable New Year's Eve for tens of thousands of French people, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe, as the official death toll from two storms this week climbs to 83.

A million homes are still without electricity after the violent storms, and around 100,000 of them will be without power Friday night.

More than a million telephone lines also are still down. Most of them won't be working in time for New Year's greetings to relatives and friends.

Almost a hundred-thousand homes are still without running water, while others have been flooded by overflowing rivers.

Even those who escaped to the mountains will have problems: the weather service warns of avalanches on the ski slopes.

And if high winds continue in Paris, the millenium fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower will be cancelled.

Figures released by the French Interior Ministry bring the death toll across Western Europe to 136. The death toll also rose in Switzerland after a man died of head injuries Thursday.

The French government has pledged $21.4 million to help repair the damage caused both by the storms and the oil slick which was flung onto the Atlantic coast by the gales. Of that, $15.3 million are to go to local administrations to cover urgent repairs.

But Finance Minister Christian Sautter said Thursday the cost to the state would probably be higher.

On top of the costs of restoring basic power, water and telephone services to homes across the countryside, France also has to factor in the damage done to historical monuments.

The Ministry of Culture and Communication said Thursday it will cost $61.3 million to repair the damage to such well-known monuments as the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the Versailles gardens and chateau.

Repairs in Versailles, where around 10,000 trees were uprooted, will cost between $7.7 million and $9.2 million.

A report by Swiss Reinsurance Co. said the costs to insurers throughout Europe would run to "several billion dollars." Damage to buildings in Switzerland totaled roughly $281 million, according to estimates from state and private insurers.

Electricity workers struggled to restore power to around a million homes still in the dark after the gales that tore a trail of devastation through France and Western Europe.

Six thousand troops were deployed in France on Wednesday, and the national electricity company, EDF, mobilized 12,000 workers and others who recently retired as France tapped all its resources in a bid to clean up and restore power.

Sixty-nine areas across the country have been declared "natural catastrophe zones." And although the weather has calmed, the violent storms continue to claim victims.

Two electricians were seriously injured Thursday when a high-voltage electricity pylon collapsed in the Marne region, east of Paris, police said.

The European death toll was pushed up after snowstorms brought on by the same weaher front caused avalanches Tuesday in western and central Austria, killing 12 people. Heavy snowfall in the French Alps also led to maximum avalanche alerts. A helicopter crashed in snow and fog in central Hungary, killing all four people aboard.

Since Sunday, 17 people have died in Germany, 14 in Switzerland and six in Spain.

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