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Storm kills five in UK and Netherlands, causes travel chaos (update three)

The storm on the pier of IJmuiden, The Netherlands

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Anthony Deutsch

HURRICANE STRENGTH winds battered Britain and the Netherlands on Monday, killing five people, cutting power and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and train journeys before the storm barrelled further into mainland Europe.

Gusts of up to 99 mph (160 kph) lashed southern England and Wales in the worst storm recorded in Britain in a decade, while Denmark and Sweden were bracing for the impact there.

A 17-year-old girl was killed when a tree fell onto her home while she slept in Kent, southeast of London, while a man in his 50s was killed when a tree crushed his car in the town of Watford, just north of the capital.

A man and a woman were found dead in west London after several houses were damaged in a suspected gas explosion on a street where the storm blew a tree down. London police said the tree may have damaged gas pipes, causing the explosion.

A crane smashed into the Cabinet Office, a ministry in the heart of London, forcing Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to cancel a news conference.

Thin volumes on London’s financial markets suggested many traders had been stuck at home, along with millions of other commuters who would normally head into London.

Heavy winds also swept across the low-lying Netherlands, shutting down all train traffic to Amsterdam. Hurricane-force winds of more than 150 kph were recorded on one of the islands off the northern Dutch coast.

Uprooted trees smashed cars, homes and sank a houseboat along an Amsterdam canal. Roofs were blown off buildings and several houseboats were ripped off their moorings, police said.

A woman was killed and two people were seriously hurt by falling trees in the Dutch capital and a ferry carrying 1,000 people from the English city of Newcastle was unable to dock in the port of IJmuiden and returned to sea, RTL television said.

Fifty flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport were cancelled and RotterdamPort, Europe’s busiest, said incoming and outgoing vessels were delayed.

In France, winds topping 100 kph struck the north and northwest, felling trees, whipping up seas and cutting power supplies to around 75,000 homes, according to the ERDF electricity distribution company.

Helicopters and a sea-rescue team searched for a 47-year-old woman swept out to sea by a wave during a cliff sortie on Belle Ile, an island off Brittany where high winds generated waves of 5-6 metres, according to the coastguard in the region.

Homes and businesses were counting the cost of the damage as a British Met Office spokeswoman said the worst of the storm in Britain had passed by late morning as it headed eastward.

Some 486,000 properties in Britain were left without power, UK Power Networks said, in one of the worst storms to hit England since the 1987 “Great Storm” which killed 18 people and felled around 15 million trees. By mid-afternoon, 115,000 properties were still without power.

The Association of British Insurers said it was too early to give figures on insured loss. A storm in Britain in 1987 storm caused 2.2 billion pounds of damage in today’s terms (1 billion in 1987 money). The last comparable storm to today’s was in 2002, a Met Office spokesman said.

“The issue for us will be flooding more than the wind and it will become clearer this afternoon,” Philip Moore, group finance director at LV, which insures more than 500,000 homes in Britain, said. “So far it is not as bad as ’87.”

Northern Europe was preparing for the impact. In Denmark, several bridges were closed as the storm hit the west coast of Jutland and was expected to move towards the capital of Copenhagen during the afternoon.

Sweden cancelled all passenger trains in the south of the country ahead of the storm’s arrival.

Transport was hard hit in Britain. As the working week began, London’s commuter train service was shut while several Tube lines were suspended due trees toppling onto the tracks. The Severn motorway bridge linking England to South Wales was also closed.

London’s Heathrow airport said 130 flights were cancelled, the majority between 0600 and 1100 GMT and told passengers to check with their airlines before travelling.

Passenger Nozipho Mtshede said she was going to miss her father’s funeral in Zimbabwe due to her flight being delayed eight hours: “I won’t make it because they can’t keep him so I’ll have to miss his burial.”

Volumes in the gilt market were around half normal levels as trading floors managed with a skeleton staff. “By 9 o’clock only six out of 25 of us were in,” said Marc Ostwald, fixed income strategist at Monument Securities. “It’s been a fantastically quiet day.”

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