Deadly gales halt trains and flights across north-west Europe

Storm lashes Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and parts of UK, uprooting power lines and trees, and killing at least nine people

Violent gales have battered north-west Europe, killing at least nine people, toppling trees and trucks, bringing down power lines, grounding aircraft and halting road and rail traffic across the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

All long-distance train services were cancelled in Germany after the Netherlands bore the early brunt of the second major winter storm this month, with Schiphol airport in Amsterdam suspending all traffic for two hours and closing two of its three departure halls as tiles flew off the terminal building.

More than 260 flights were cancelled as winds of up to 90mph (140km/h) prompted the Dutch weather service to issue a nationwide red alert, the highest alarm level. Services resumed later but with severe delays.

A 62-year-old man was killed in the central village of Olst when he was hit by a falling branch as he got out of his lorry to remove debris from the road, while another 62-year-old died in the eastern city of Enschede after a tree fell on to his car, and a 66-year-old man died in a fall believed to have been caused by the high winds.

In Rotterdam, shipping containers were toppled and roofs ripped off homes. Europe’s busiest cargo port was “virtually unreachable from the north” because of traffic holdups on three of the main motorways into the city, the national traffic service VID said. At least 25 large freight trucks had been knocked on their sides by the winds, causing huge traffic jams on six of the country’s main roads.

The Dutch national railways service, NS, halted all trains for most of the morning except for local services in the south of the country and warned that “a large number of breakdowns” meant normal service could take hours to restore. Neighbouring Belgium halted the high-speed Thalys services to the Netherlands and Germany.

Six people were also killed in Germany, where gusts of wind reached up to 80mph (130km/h). They included a 59-year-old man hit by a falling tree in Emmerich near the Dutch border, a 68-year-old lorry driver died in a storm-related accident in Lippstadt, and two firefighters, one of them a 28-year-old who died after a tree fell on him while he was trying to help a woman trapped in her car.

More than 40 people were injured in weather-related traffic accidents in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the country’s most populous state, police said. Up to 100,000 were left without electricity and flights were cancelled at Düsseldorf and Cologne-Bonn airports.

Deutsche Bahn suspended nearly all long-distance train services across the country and regional rail traffic was also cancelled in several states. Residents of a British army base in NRW told the Guardian cars had been crushed, tiles ripped off buildings and the roof of a tank shed torn off in the gale.

Schools were closed as a precautionary measure in many parts of the country and Germans – particularly in western regions – were warned to stay indoors if at all possible. Heavy snowfall and slippery roads were causing car accidents “every other minute” on some roads in northern Germany, authorities said.

The Belgian port of Ghent was temporarily closed, and a woman was killed near Brussels when her car was crushed by a falling tree. Trams were suspended in the Belgian capital for several hours and the city’s major parks closed for fear of falling trees.

Sand is blown on to the road by gales in The Hague.
Sand is blown on to the road by gales in The Hague. Photograph: Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Parts of the UK were also hit by gale-force winds of up to 70mph (110km/h) and thousands of homes in south-east England were without electricity. Overhead power lines supplying trains were damaged and trees brought crashing on to tracks, causing severe delays for thousands of commuters.

Driving conditions in parts of Scotland were described by the Met Office as extremely hazardous, with motorists advised to stay off the roads because of blustery winds, heavy snow and icy conditions. Thousands of homes in the east of England were also left without power.


Jon Henley European affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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