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Nine dead as huge storms batter Europe

Friday, January 19, 2018

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BERLIN, Germany AFP) — Nine people, including two firefighters, were killed yesterday as violent gales battered northern Europe, snapping air and train links.

Germany halted all long-distance rail traffic for at least a day, while numerous domestic flights were scrapped as hurricane-force winds lashed the country.

The storm claimed six lives in Germany, including two firefighters deployed in emergency operations and two truck drivers whose vehicles were blown over by the gales.

Another driver died when he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a truck.

A 59-year-old camper was killed instantly when a tree fell on him in North Rhine-Westphalia state, German police said, as wind speeds reached a high of 203 kilometres an hour (126 mph) at the Brocken — the highest peak of northern Germany.

The storm, named Friederike, also ripped the roof off a school in the eastern state of Thueringia while children were still in the building. Authorities said no one was hurt there.

In the Bavarian alps, the strong gales forced the cancellation of a ski world championship qualifier at Oberstdorf.

It is the worst storm to strike Germany since 2007, according to the German weather service.

Passengers stuck at rail stations were given a voucher for a hotel room, German rail service Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Strauss said.

“We must protect our passengers and our staff,” he added, without saying when the rail service would return to normal.

In the Netherlands, which had borne the brunt of the severe winter storms earlier yesterday, two people were crushed by falling trees as bitter winds barrelled off the North Sea to hit the low-lying country with full force.

As the national weather service raised its warning to the highest code red level, a 62-year-old man was killed in the central Dutch town of Olst by a falling branch when he got out of his truck to remove debris blocking the road.

A second Dutchman, also 62, was killed in eastern Enschede when a tree toppled onto his car, the Dutch news agency ANP said.

In neighbouring Belgium, a woman driver reportedly died when her car was crushed by a tree as she was travelling through a wood in the Grez-Doiceau area, about 35 kilometres south of Brussels.

Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, one of the continent's busiest travel hubs, was forced to briefly cancel all flights as winds gusted up to 140 kilometres an hour in some areas.

Flights later resumed but all passengers were being advised to check their flight status, the airport said in a tweet, adding “up until now, 320 flights have been cancelled”.

The airport also had to close the entrances to two of its three departure halls when some roof tiles were whipped off the terminal building.

Storm carpool

The traffic chaos also plagued the roads, with the Dutch national traffic office reporting 66 trucks had been toppled over by the high winds causing huge traffic jams on the motorways, the highest recorded number since 1990.

The Dutch NS national train service said meanwhile that only a few trains would be put into service late yesterday, and warned of further disruption today as many overhead lines had been brought down by the high winds.

The hashtag #StormPoolen (or storm carpool) began trending with people searching rides between cities, and some drivers offering spare seats in their cars.

“My lovely boyfriend is trying to get from Leiden Central to Delft. He's very nice and there's a bottle of wine in it for whoever can return him unharmed. #StormPoolen,” wrote one Twitter user Molly Quell.

Puk van de Lagemaat promised “mad Dj-ing and Karaoke skills to accompany you in the traficjam (sic)” if anyone could give her a ride from Amsterdam central station to The Hague.

Thalys, the high-speed train operator, suspended services to the Netherlands and Germany.

Avalanche risk

Germany's rail service said stranded passengers will receive a hotel voucher or will have the option of spending a night in a train at the station.

Traffic is expected to resume only very gradually, said a German rail spokesman.

Dutch insurers warned that the bill for the storm damage could top 10 million euros ($12.25 million).

Four people were injured in Antwerp, including one woman who was seriously hurt after being hit in the head by flying metal debris, the Belgian news agency Belga said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Tyrol state in western Austria said part of the Westbahn train line linking Vienna, Linz and Salzburg was closed on Thursday morning because of avalanche risk, national railways company OeBB said.

“We don't want to take any risks,” OeBB spokesman Christoph Gasser-Mair said.

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