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Hurricane-force winds hit Scotland, close in on Germany

Source: Reuters - Thu, 5 Dec 2013 03:04 PM
Author: Reuters
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(Updates with Hamburg airport closing, details from Denmark and Netherlands)

By Erik Kirschbaum and Belinda Goldsmith

BERLIN/LONDON Dec 5 (Reuters) - Hurricane-force winds disrupted transport and power supplies in Scotland and threatened coastal flooding in England as they closed in on north Europe in what meteorologists said could be one of the most powerful storms to hit the continent in years.

British authorities said the Thames Barrier, designed to protect London from flooding during exceptional tides, would shut on Thursday night and warned of "the most serious coastal tidal surge for over 60 years in England". Prime Minister David Cameron called a meeting to discuss strategy.

One person was killed as winds of up to 225 km per hour (140 mph) slammed into parts of the Scottish highlands, Britain's weather office said. More than 80,000 homes were left without power, according to energy company SSE.

That number was expected to rise with road connections blocked by fallen trees and debris. A lorry driver was killed and four people injured when his vehicle overturned and collided with other vehicles in West Lothian, police said.

All train services in Scotland were suspended shortly after 8 a.m. local time until further notice due to debris on the tracks caused by storm Xaver. Glasgow Central station was evacuated after part of a glass roof collapsed, ScotRail said.

Low-lying coastal areas in eastern England are particularly vulnerable to tidal surges but sea defences have been built up considerably since storms and flooding killed hundreds on the North Sea coast in 1953.

HAMBURG ALERT

Authorities in Germany's northern port city of Hamburg issued public warnings about the winds, which some forecasters are saying could be as powerful as a deadly storm and ensuing flood that hit the city in 1962 and killed 315.

The city on the Elbe River was preparing for a direct hit by the storm on Thursday. Hamburg airport cancelled all flights in Germany's second city as the storm neared and many schools and Christmas markets were closed.

Ferries to Germany's North Sea islands were kept in ports and some companies, such as machinery-maker Krones in Flensburg, closed their plants.

"Xaver has developed into hurricane force and it'll be quite dangerous along the North Sea shore," said Andreas Friedrich, a German weather service meteorologist.

"The truly dangerous thing about this storm is that the winds will continue for hours and won't let up. The danger of coastal flooding is high."

Friedrich said people were being advised to stay indoors across northern Germany because of the dangers such as trees being toppled and parts of roofs blown off. The weather service has issued an extreme weather warning for the northern states of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and Bremen.

In Denmark, railroad company DSB said it would stop operating most trains during the storm. Airline company Alsie Express cancelled all domestic flight on Thursday. The 6.8-km long Great Belt Bridge, which includes a 1.6-km long suspension bridge section, was closed.

Trains in the northern Netherlands were halted as a precautionary measure, Dutch Railways said, as stormy weather disrupted transport across the country.

At Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, Europe's fourth busiest, airlines cancelled 50 flights, an airport spokeswoman said, adding that there could be further cancellations.

Authorities in Rotterdam, Europe's largest port, did not expect any interruptions or serious flooding because they thought high waters would hit only after winds had peaked.

Northern Ireland Electricity said 6,500 homes were without power after severe gale force winds with gusts of 60 mph damaged the power network while another 10,000 customers lost power but had their services restored during the night. (Additional reporting by Matthias Baehr in Berlin, Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam and Ole Mikkelsen in Copenhagen; editing by Andrew Heavens)

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