A woman holds an umbrella being swept by the wind as she walks by the Atlantic Ocean in Ciboure, near Saint-Jean-de-Luz, southwestern France on Tuesday. ((Bob Edme/Associated Press))

A severe storm with winds topping 150 kilometres an hour pummelled France overnight and early Tuesday, knocking out electricity to more than half a million people and sparking travel chaos.

For the first time in 34 years, Paris's two main airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly, were closed late Monday because of safety concerns over potential wind gusts, the CBC's David Common reported.

The airports reopened on Tuesday morning after 14 hours with passengers being told to expect delays. More than 200 flights were cancelled.

The storm blew in from the choppy Atlantic Ocean and sparked massive power outages in western and central France, while power officials say it's still too windy to begin repairs.

Ferry officials also suspended service to Brittany and nearby islands.

Along France's Atlantic coastline, authorities were advising people to stay well away from the water as rescue boats were put on standby.

"Not many people in the sea," lighthouse operator Mathieu Bernard told CBC News on Tuesday. "Unless you're a big container ship, you have no business there today."

Emergency officials in France and Spain are still reeling from a storm that buffeted the region on Jan. 24. That storm was blamed for the deaths of at least 15 people in both countries.

The storm moved overnight over Britain, delivering heavy rain and fierce winds and creating treacherous driving conditions. Nearly 100 areas are under a flood warning as the winter lashing continues.

Last week, much of Britain ground to a near halt as the country was hit with the worst winter storm in decades.