Powerful gale lashes Europe, 6 dead amid traffic chaos

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A powerful storm pummeled Europe with high winds and snow Thursday, killing at least six 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 already had scrapped more than 200 flights before the storm. Trains were halted across the nation and in Germany.

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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 at a camping site 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, police said.

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 the city of 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 Amsterdam, a man had a narrow escape when a tree was blown over onto his scooter. He escaped unhurt.

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 three deaths and the national railway company suspended long-distance train services across the country.

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 for the rest of the day as a precaution. He said regional and local trains were still running in some areas, such as Berlin, Bavaria and the far north.

In western Germany, some 100,000 people were left without electricity and schools remained closed. The square in front of Cologne’s famous Cathedral was partially cordoned off Thursday as a precaution amid fears masonry could be blown loose.

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.

In Romania, snowstorms and high winds forced the closure of dozens of schools, several main roads and Black Sea ports, and thousands of people were left without electricity. Interior Minister Carmen Dan said Thursday that 32,000 people had no power. Authorities also freed a bus carrying 22 people that was stranded in snowdrifts in Romania’s eastern Galati region.

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