Europe battered by windstorm that has left 13 dead

A savage coastal storm powered by hurricane-force gusts slashed its way through Britain and western Europe on Monday, felling trees, flooding lowlands, snarling transportation and killing at least 13.

U.K., Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and France all affected

A savage coastal storm powered by hurricane-force gusts slashed its way through Britain and western Europe on Monday, felling trees, flooding lowlands and snarling traffic in the air, at sea and on land. At least 13 people were reported killed.

It was one of the worst storms to hit the region in years. The deadly tempest had no formal name — and wasn't officially classified as a hurricane due to a meteorological standard — but it was dubbed the St. Jude storm (after the patron saint of lost causes) and stormageddon on social networks.

Gusts of 160 km/h were reported on the Isle of Wight in southern England, while gusts up to 130 km/h hit the British mainland. Later in the day, the Danish capital of Copenhagen saw record gusts up of to 194 km/h and an autobahn in central Germany was shut down by gusts up to 100 km/h.

All across the region, people were warned to stay indoors. Hundreds of trees were uprooted or split, blocking roads and crushing cars. The Dutch were told to leave their beloved bicycles at home for safety's sake.

At least thirteen storm-related deaths were reported, most victims crushed by falling trees. Germany had six deaths, Britain had five and the Netherlands and Denmark had one each. One woman was also missing after being swept into the surf in France. 

A man in Denmark was killed when a brick flew off and hit him in the head. A British teen who played in the storm-driven surf was swept out to sea and two people were killed in London by a gas explosion.

"It was a very huge bang. It looked like, my first thought was maybe an aircraft has crashed or something. It was a very, very big explosion,” Rakesh Jain, who lives near the house that exploded, told CBC News.
In London, a collapsed crane fell on the roof of the Cabinet office, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to cancel a scheduled press conference. (Olivia Harris/Reuters)

He said he and his family were awoken by the explosion Monday morning. 

“I had never heard such an explosion in my life," Jain said.  "It was very, very scary, especially for the children."

Despite the strength of its gusts, the storm was not considered a hurricane because it didn't form over warm expanses of open ocean like the hurricanes that batter the Caribbean and the United States. Britain's national weather service, the Met Office, said Britain does not get hurricanes because those are "warm latitude" storms that draw their energy from seas far warmer than the North Atlantic. Monday's storm also did not have an "eye" at its centre like most hurricanes.

London's Heathrow Airport, Europe's busiest, cancelled at least 130 flights and giant waves prompted the major English port of Dover to close, cutting off ferry services to France.

Nearly 1,100 passengers had to ride out the storm on a heaving ferry from Newcastle in Britain to the Dutch port of Ijmuiden after strong winds and heavy seas blocked it from docking in the morning. The ship returned to the North Sea to wait for the wind to die down rather than risk being smashed against the harbor's walls, Teun-Wim Leene of DFDS Seaways told national broadcaster NOS.

In central London, a huge building crane near the prime minister's office crumpled in the gusts. The city's overburdened transit system faced major delays and cancellations and did not recover even once the weather swept to the east.

A nuclear power station in Kent, southern England, automatically shut its two reactors after storm debris reduced its incoming power supply. Officials at the Dungeness B plant said the reactors had shut down safely and would be brought back once power was restored.

Storm snarls all transportation

The storm left Britain in the early afternoon and roared across the English Channel, leaving up to 270,000 U.K. homes without power. 

Trains were cancelled in southern Sweden and Denmark. Winds blew off roofs, with debris reportedly breaking the legs of one man. Near the Danish capital of Copenhagen, the storm ripped down the scaffolding from a five-storey apartment building.

Copenhagen's Kastrup Airport saw delays as strong gusts prevented passengers from using boarding bridges to disembark from planes to the terminals.
Police said one London man died in an apparent gas explosion caused by a falling tree. (London Fire Brigade)

In Germany, the death toll hit six, with four people killed in three separate accidents Monday involving trees falling on cars, the dpa news agency reported. A sailor near Cologne was killed Sunday when his boat capsized and a fisherman drowned northeast of the city.

In addition to widespread rail disruptions, both Duesseldorf and Hamburg airports saw many flights cancelled, stranding more than 1,000 passengers.

Thousands of homes in northwestern France also lost electricity, while in the Netherlands several rail lines shut down and airports faced delays.  Amsterdam's central railway station was closed due to storm damage.

In France, maritime officials were searching for a woman who was swept into the turbulent Atlantic by a big wave Monday as she walked on Belle Isle, a small island off the coast of Brittany.

"We are focused on the search," Yann Bouvart, of the Atlantic Maritime Prefecture told BFM-TV. He said a helicopter, a boat and an inflatable Zodiac were looking for the woman.

Amsterdam was one of the hardest-hit cities as the storm surged up the Dutch coast. Powerful wind gusts toppled trees into canals in the capital's historic centre and sent branches tumbling onto rail and tram lines, halting almost all public transport. Commuters faced long struggles to get home.

Ferries in the Baltic Sea, including between Denmark and Sweden, were cancelled after the Swedish Meteorological Institute upgraded its storm warning to the highest possible level, class 3, which indicates "very extreme weather that could pose great danger." 

Trains were cancelled in southern Sweden, and many bridges were closed between the islands in Denmark.

London Mayor Boris Johnson praised emergency workers for doing an "amazing job" trying to keep London moving. He said his thoughts, along with those of all Londoners, were with the victims and their loved ones.

With files from Nahlah Ayed, Tracy Seeley


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