Powerful gale lashes Europe, 7 dead amid traffic chaos

By MIKE CORDER
Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A powerful storm pummeled Europe with high winds and snow Thursday, killing at least seven people in three countries, grounding flights, halting trains, ripping roofs off buildings and flipping over trucks.

The Dutch national weather service recorded wind gusts of up to 140 kph (87 mph) in the southern port of Hook of Holland as the storm passed over. Amsterdam’s Schiphol briefly halted flights for an hour in the morning, and airline KLM scrapped more than 200 flights even before the storm arrived. Trains were halted across the nation and in Germany.

Falling trees killed two 62-year-old men in the Netherlands, a woman south of the Belgian capital of Brussels, a 59-year-old man camping in the German town of Emmerich and a firefighter in the German town of Bad Salzungen.

In Lippstadt, in western Germany, a driver died when he lost control of his van in strong winds and drove into oncoming traffic. In German’s eastern state of Brandenburg, police said a gust of wind flipped a truck over a highway, killing the driver.

Police spokeswoman Jose Albers told Dutch national broadcaster NOS that authorities also were investigating whether the powerful gusts were to blame for the death of a 66-year-old man who fell through a plexiglass roof in the central town of Vuren.

Social media in the Netherlands was flooded with images of people being blown from their bicycles, cargo containers falling off a ship and damage to buildings, including a roof that peeled off an apartment block in Rotterdam.

Water authorities in the low-lying nation closed an inflatable storm barrier east of Amsterdam to prevent flooding as the storm pushed up water levels.

Traffic on Dutch roads was plunged into chaos, with the wind blowing over tractor trailers, toppling trees and hampering efforts to clean up the mess. In Amsterdam, authorities temporarily halted all trams and closed the city’s zoo. Before halting all trains, the Dutch rail service reported numerous incidents including a collision between a train and a trampoline.

In neighboring Belgium, the port of Ghent closed down because of the high winds and tram traffic was halted in parts of Brussels. In Germany, police reported several injuries as well as the four deaths and the national railway company suspended long-distance trains across the country as train tracks were littered with fallen trees. Deutsche Bahn’s announcement Thursday afternoon came hours after all trains in two of Germany’s populous western areas, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, were halted.

Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Stauss told n-tv television that the measure would remain all day Thursday as a precaution. He said regional and local trains were still running in Berlin, Bavaria and the far north.

In western Germany, some 100,000 people were left without electricity and schools closed down. The square in front of Cologne’s famous Cathedral was partially cordoned off amid fears that masonry could be blown loose. A supermarket roof peeled off in Menden. The storm toppled a crane in Kirtorf, central Germany.

In Britain, power was knocked out to thousands of homes. Gale-force winds damaged overhead power lines that supply trains and brought trees crashing onto the tracks, causing severe delays for thousands of commuters. Even Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle were delayed in their train trip to Cardiff in Wales.

In Romania, snowstorms and high winds forced the closure of dozens of schools, several main roads and Black Sea ports in the east. Interior Minister Carmen Dan said 32,000 people were left without power. Authorities also had to free a bus carrying 22 people that was stranded in snowdrifts in Romania’s eastern Galati region.

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