BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — Nine people including two firefighters were killed Thursday 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 in to 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 kilometers 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 have 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 Thursday, two people were crushed by falling trees as bitter winds barreled 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.
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 Thursday, and warned of further disruption on Friday as many overhead lines had been brought down by the high winds. Thalys, the high-speed train operator, suspended services to the Netherlands and Germany.
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.
Israel flights diverted
Heavy rains also lashed Israel Thursday night with stormy conditions expected to continue until Friday evening, including snow on Mount Hermon and on hilltops in Israel’s north that are at least 800 meters above sea level.
The Israeli airline Arkia said it would divert all its flights from Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport, due to limited visibility expected to make takeoffs and landings impossible.
Strong winds brought down a tree in the coastal city of Netanya, damaging a car and blocking a central thoroughfare for several hours. No one was injured in the incident.
The northern Golan Regional Council discussed preparations for the storm with the IDF, police, Magen David Adom, fire and rescue services, the Israel Electric Corporation and the National Roads Company.
Preparations included deploying snow removal and winter service vehicles, placing power generators and deploying first-aid personnel in vehicles suited for snowy conditions.
The Jerusalem municipality also said it had completed preparations for the storm, issuing recommendations to residents to clear out yards and public spaces of objects that can fly in strong winds.
Mayor Nir Barkat ordered heightened attention to vulnerable populations by the city’s welfare services, while vehicles to clear roads were being prepared.
The storm is not expected, however, to be stronger than the worst storm of this year to hit Israel so far. Two weeks ago, heavy rains left Israelis stranded in floods, shut main roads and brought down dozens of trees, with over 100 millimeters falling in parts of the north.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
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