(CN) — After battering Western Europe for two days, a powerful storm had killed at least 12 people by Friday with hurricane-force winds and flash floods.
Storm Ciarán was one of the strongest storms to hit Europe in years, slamming southern England and northern France with winds that reached over 100 mph before dumping huge amounts of rainfall on the Italian regions of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy and Veneto. As the storm moved east, Greece issued weather warnings Friday.
Europe has been struck by several weather disasters this year, including deadly flooding in Italy in May and later in September in Greece. Also, the year has been marked by severe drought and record-breaking extreme heat.
The disasters are linked to the emergence of an El Niño weather cycle earlier this year. El Niños typically bring hotter and more unpredictable weather, but scientists say climate change is exacerbating its effects.
By Friday afternoon, Italian authorities reported that at least six people were killed in Ciarán's fierce winds and record-breaking rainfall. In Tuscany, flash floods turned streets into raging rivers, inundated four hospitals and devastated neighborhoods in Florence and the nearby cities of Pistoia and Prato. A state of emergency was declared.
Meanwhile, in Spain a large wildfire whipped up by Ciarán's winds had burned about 4,900 acres of land and forced the evacuation of 850 people from four towns, the Associated Press reported Friday, citing officials. Spain has been suffering a drought for the past two years, intensified by climate change.
On Thursday, Ciarán's ferocious winds were blamed for the deaths of at least six people in France, Belgium, Spain and Germany. At least four people were killed by falling branches and trees while a man was blown off his balcony in Le Havre, a French port city.
Ciarán's hurricane-force winds caused extensive travel disruptions after airplane, train and ferry service was shut down in several parts of northern Europe. The storm caused extensive property damage and left about 1.2 million French homes without power Thursday.
Wind gusts in the western Brittany region of France reached over 100 mph and broke records, the national weather agency Meteo-France said.
In England, strong winds and powerful waves forced the evacuation of residents along the coast on the Channel Island of Jersey.
The flooding in Italy was devastating and prompted more warnings about the dangers posed by climate change by Italian officials.
“What happened tonight in Tuscany has a very clear name: climate change,” Tuscany governor Eugenio Giani wrote on social media, warning against complacency. “We've never recorded so much rain in so few minutes.”
Prato Mayor Marco Biffoni said he was shocked by the flooding and damage he saw during a tour of the city, where two elderly people died. He said 6.1 inches of rain fell in a few hours.
“After a night of devastation, it's a punch in the stomach and makes you want to cry,” he said on Facebook. “We will roll up our sleeves to clean up and get our city back to normal.”
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.Follow @cainburdeau
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