Page last updated at 18:32 GMT, Monday, 4 August 2008 19:32 UK

North France tornado kills three

The tornado wreaked havoc as it tore through Hautmont

A tornado has wreaked havoc in a small town in northern France, killing three people and injuring nine.

A woman in her 70s died when her house collapsed late on Sunday in Hautmont. A deputy mayor and his wife were also crushed in their own home.

The storm devastated two streets in Hautmont, which has 16,000 residents.

Roofs were ripped off, trees uprooted and cars overturned. Rescuers are still picking through the rubble in case any more residents were buried alive.

There was a deep roaring sound, like a bombing raid
Erick Filleur, Hautmont resident

The tornado also swept through three other small towns nearby, where the damage was not so severe: Maubeuge, Neuf-Mesnil and Boussieres-sur-Sambre.

A 76-year-old man committed suicide after his house was demolished by the storm, AFP news agency quoted Suzanne Thiefaine, an official with the Hautmont mayor's office, as saying.

Deep roaring sound

The tornado tore through 10km (six miles) of the Nord region of France on Sunday at around 2300 local time (2100 GMT).

It cut a swathe through Hautmont, where hundreds of homes were damaged within minutes, said Ms Thiefaine.

Tornado map

Five hundred homes in Hautmont alone were damaged, 100 of those were uninhabitable, she said.

Another 200 homes were damaged in the other three affected towns, she added.

"My roof blew off, all the windows are broken," 75-year-old Leon Denoyelle told the French news agency AFP in Hautmont.

"There was a deep roaring sound, like a bombing raid," local resident Erick Filleur was quoted as saying.

Red Cross volunteers handed out blankets and food to shocked residents, as 200 rescue workers used sniffer dogs to scour the affected area for survivors.

France's Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was heading to the area to survey the damage, ministry officials said.


Collapsed buildings in Hautmont

In pictures: French tornado
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