French storm sites reopen; some damage still evident

PARIS -- As France cleans up the debris left in the aftermath of two of the worst storms on record to hit the country, most historical monuments, parks and gardens that suffered severe damage are again open to the public.

On Dec. 26, gale-force winds hit Paris, collapsing roofs, battering church spires and felling hundreds of trees in the Tuileries Gardens and thousands more in city parks such as the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes.

More than 1,000 trees were uprooted in the parkland of ancient forest -- temporarily closed to visitors -- that surrounds Chateau Rambouillet outside Paris.

All the capital's monuments reopened just after the new year, but some buildings, such as Notre-Dame Cathedral and Ste.-Chapelle, where stained-glass windows were broken, as well as St.-Denis Basilica and the Pantheon will require extensive restoration, according to the French Ministry of Culture.

The ministry estimates that the most basic restoration work on the cultural monuments in Paris will cost more than $75 million.

The largest task in the Paris vicinity will be repairing different corners of Versailles, where there was structural damage to some of the pavilions and extensive damage to the forest preserve, where some 10,000 trees were uprooted.

Elsewhere in France, the cathedral at Chartres has been temporarily closed to the public due to the danger of falling stones.

At Mont-St.-Michel, on the Normandy coast, damage to the abbey was extensive, but the famous site has reopened for public visits.

The second storm, on the evening of Dec. 27, which hit France with higher winds than the first, tore along the Atlantic coast of the country, bringing particularly severe damage to parts of Brittany, where an oil- tanker spill washed onto a 250-mile stretch of shore.

Also, the seaport of La Rochelle was hit particularly badly, and there was major damage to yachts anchored in the harbor.

Miraculously unscathed by high winds in Paris were the Ferris wheels of light that decorated the Champs-Elysees and were seen on television sets around the world as part of the City of Light's celebration of the arrival of the new year.

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