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Storm Eleanor fans wildfires in Corsica

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A man takes a picture as high waves hit the waterfront in Marseille after storm Eleanor hit France. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

The French Alps were on maximum avalanche alert on Thursday as Storm Eleanor swept through Europe, killing at least five people and fanning rare winter wildfires in Corsica.


With the mountains packed with skiers for the school holidays, major resort Val d'Isere closed its runs for the day because of heavy snowfall, while Chamonix said it was shutting many of its lifts as a precautionary measure.

“The objective is to keep everyone safe,” said David Ponson, ski chief in the Alpine Savoie region, as many pistes were shut for a second day.

At the other extreme, nearly 400 firefighters on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica were battling blazes fanned by Eleanor's strong gusts of wind, with three people injured in a fire overnight.

Three hundred goats were killed in the blaze at Chiatra-Canale di Verde near the island's east coast and 10 homes burnt – five of them completely destroyed, local authorities said.

The prefecture added that the intensity of the blazes was “exceptional in the middle of winter.” Troops from the local airbase have been deployed to help fight the flames.

Eleanor, the fourth winter storm to hit Europe since December, swept into the continent on Wednesday after battering Britain and Ireland.

It has left at least five people dead, including a 21-year-old skier hit by a falling tree in France and a couple in their 60s swept away on Spain's northern Basque coast by a huge wave.

On Thursday in the French Alps, firefighters said a woman in her 90s died of a heart attack in Crets-en-Belledonne after floods sent a torrent of mud and water into her home.

And a farmer in Savoie was found dead under a snowslide.

Meanwhile a French volunteer firefighter was reported missing after rushing to help when a car plunged into an overflowing river in the Alpine village of Le Moutaret.

The worst of the storm appeared to have passed by Thursday, though much of eastern France was still on "orange" alert for heavy winds, floods and avalanches.

Power had been restored to homes in France by Thursday evening, except for around 2,000 residences in Corsica, French electricity companies said.

- with AFP