March 31, 2015 / 12:16 PM / 5 years ago

Hurricane-strength winds pummel Europe, four killed

HAMBURG (Reuters) - At least four people were killed on Tuesday when hurricane-force winds lashed northern Europe in one of the most severe storms in years, forcing flights to be cancelled and disrupting road, train and marine traffic.

Tourists search for shelter as Storm Niklas strikes in Berlin March 31, 2015. One of the strongest storm fronts in years hit Germany on Tuesday, as Storm Niklas uncovered roofs, toppled scaffolding and caused severe disruption to rail services. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The Dutch meteorological office issued a red warning for the northern and coastal provinces of the low-lying Netherlands, as gusts of up to 120 kph (75 mph) caused damage estimated at several million euros.

German weather service spokesman Peter Hartmann said winds had reached up to 160 kph (100 mph) on higher ground.

“This is one of the worst storms in recent years,” he said, noting that such hurricane-force winds were highly unusual for this time of the year.

Two road workers were killed in the western region of Rhineland-Palatinate when a tree fell on their vehicle, while another man was crushed under a stone wall in front of his house near Magdeburg in eastern Germany.

The fourth victim was in the eastern Dutch town of Ede, where a man was killed when the roof of a warehouse fell on him.

About 140 flights were cancelled at Frankfurt airport, where one runway was shut. Around 90 flights were cancelled at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

At Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, two container terminals were closed, with ships forced to queue out at sea. A spokesman said this was a routine precaution when winds rise above gale force seven. Bulk liquid terminals continued to operate.

Dutch authorities warned freight drivers not to travel with lightly loaded vehicles after overturned trucks blocked roads, while in the north some bridges had to be closed.

Near the port of Vlissingen on the Belgian border, authorities were able to refloat a 300-metre (1,000-foot) container ship that ran aground in the small hours.

In Germany, train services were suspended in the northern states of North Rhine Westphalia and Lower Saxony, and disrupted as far south as Bavaria.

In Britain, winds gusted up to 97 mph (156 kph) overnight, with a major bridge over the River Thames closed for several hours because of the bad weather, causing long traffic delays.

In Belgium, the wind uprooted trees and cut power lines to hundreds of homes. In some places, cars and buildings were damaged by flying debris and some rail and road links were briefly obstructed.

(Corrects headline to drop reference to all four dead being in Germany)

Reporting by Michael Nienaber, Markus Wacket, Sabine Wollrab, Anthony Deutsch, Erik Kirschbaum, Alastair Macdonald, Stephen Addison, writing by Michael Hogan and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Alison Williams and Kevin Liffey

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