France's worst storm in this century highlighted an advanced industrial society's vulnerability to nature's wrath. "The sight of toppled steeples and chimneys and craters opening up in old structures all over Paris after a storm makes you wonder what a small earth tremor could do to this city," says Crumley. "In the end, it's a sign that nature can't be totally leashed or predicted." At least Mother Nature had the good grace to strike a week before the New Year had the storm come amid Friday night's planned outdoor celebrations in Paris, the death toll might have been considerably higher.
Millions of French households may pass the New Year with no electricity or heating, but not because of any computer bug. The killer storm that raged through Europe over the weekend, leaving at least 130 people dead and billions of dollars in damage, has also left up to 5 million French people without electricity and the government has admitted that many won't have their power restored by the New Year. "France's Y2K preparations are pretty good," says TIME Paris correspondent Bruce Crumley. "But nothing could have prepared for this. Here you have stable infrastructure, such as pylons, being destroyed, and that's going to take a lot of man-hours to fix."