LONDON: A fierce storm battered northern Europe Thursday, leaving four people dead or missing, causing mass transport disruption and threatening the biggest tidal surge in decades.
Winds of up to 228 kilometers per hour battered northern Britain while authorities evacuated residents and boosted flood defenses in low-lying areas across the region.
Dozens of flights were canceled or delayed in the Netherlands, Germany and Scotland, while rail services were shut down in several countries and one of Europe’s longest bridges – connecting Sweden to Denmark – was to close.
Tens of thousands of homes were also left without power as so-called Storm Xaver tore through the area.
In Britain, a lorry driver died when his vehicle toppled onto a number of cars in Scotland, while a man riding a mobility scooter was struck by a falling tree in central England.
Two sailors were reportedly swept overboard from a ship 14 km off the southern Swedish coast Thursday. Air-sea rescue services failed to find them.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had convened a meeting of the government’s emergency committee to ensure necessary measures were being taken.
The biggest fear across Europe was a storm surge overnight.
British authorities said they had evacuated homes in Great Yarmouth, eastern England, and warned that people’s lives could be at risk.
They said it could be the biggest storm surge for 60 years.
In the Netherlands – where 27 percent of the country lies below sea-level – the landmark Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier has been closed off for the first time in six years.
The barrier was built after a storm in 1953 killed almost 2,000 people.
Dutch authorities said they had issued the highest possible flood warning for four areas in the north and northwest of the country.
Belgium is expected to experience a storm surge of up to 6.1 meters, “the highest for 30 years,” said Carl Decaluwe, the governor of West Flanders province.
“The combination of wind and high tides could create very high sea levels,” Decaluwe said.
Germany reinforced emergency services in and around the northern port of Hamburg and canceled classes at several schools, while Swedish authorities also issued flood warnings.
The storm was causing transport chaos throughout northern Europe.
Dutch airline KLM canceled 84 continental flights from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, while around 20 were canceled at Hamburg airport.
Flights from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports in Scotland were being canceled because of the weather conditions.
Britain’s Meteorological Office said it had recorded a gust of nearly 228 km/h in the mountains of Inverness-shire, Scotland.
Rail travel was badly hit, with all train services in Scotland canceled because of debris on the lines and damage to equipment, operator Network Rail said.
“We cannot continue to run trains with the levels of wind we are seeing,” spokesman Nick King said.
In an unusual request, Scottish police urged trampoline owners to secure them to stop them causing damage or blowing on to rail lines.
The Oeresund road and rail bridge between Sweden and Denmark will close to traffic at 1500 GMT, Swedish officials said, while several major rail lines will be closed.
The bridge – one of Europe’s longest – links the Danish capital Copenhagen with the Swedish city of Malmo and features in the hit television series “The Bridge.”
Danish authorities said they were closing down rail services across the country and Germany said it might do the same. Ferries to Germany from Sweden and Denmark were canceled.
In Britain, the storm played havoc with powerlines. More than 20,000 homes were without power in Scotland and 6,500 in Northern Ireland.