Hurricane-force winds wreak havoc in Britain, head to Europe

Reuters

* "Xaver" halts transport and cuts power lines in Scotland

* Storm kills two in Britain, one in Denmark

* London's Thames Barrier flood defence to close

By Erik Kirschbaum and Belinda Goldsmith

BERLIN/LONDON Dec 5 (Reuters) - Hurricane-force Storm Xaverblasted towards mainland Europe on Thursday after cuttingtransport and power in northern Britain and killing threepeople in what meteorologists warned could be the worst storm tohit the continent in years.

British authorities said the Thames Barrier, designed toprotect London from flooding during exceptional tides, wouldshut on Thursday night and warned of "the most serious coastaltidal surge for over 60 years in England". Prime Minister DavidCameron called two emergency meetings to discuss strategy.

Two people were killed in Britain as the nation's weatheroffice measured winds of up to 225 km per hour (140 mph) whenthe storm slammed Scotland and parts of England.

A lorry driver was killed and four people injured when hisvehicle overturned and collided with other vehicles in WestLothian, Scotland, police said, while a second man died nearNottingham in central England when he was hit by a falling tree.

In western Denmark the 72-year-old female passenger of atruck died when the vehicle overturned in high winds.

More than 100,000 homes were left without power acrossBritain, 80,000 of them in Scotland, according to energy companySSE.

North Sea oil and gas producers including ConocoPhillips, Maersk Oil, and Statoil cutproduction and evacuated staff from some platforms.

All train services in Scotland were cancelled on Thursdaymorning due to debris on the tracks but services were slowlyrestored during the day. Lifeboat crews were called to rescuepeople from flooded homes in Rhyl in north Wales.

Low-lying coastal areas of eastern England were waiting forthe storm to hit on Thursday evening, with the EnvironmentAgency issuing 41 severe flood warnings, the highest category.

Police were advising more than 15,000 people to evacuateeast coast areas vulnerable to tidal surges, although seadefences have been strengthened since storms and flooding killedhundreds on the North Sea coast in 1953.

HAMBURG ON ALERT

Germany's northern port of Hamburg was preparing for adirect hit, which some forecasters said could be as powerful asa storm and flood in the city in 1962 that killed 315.

Of the 377 planes that had been due to land at or take offfrom Hamburg airport on Thursday, 120 were cancelled or diverteddue to high winds. The airport said it expected furthercancellations and delays on Friday.

In Hamburg a fish market was flooded. Many schools andChristmas markets were closed. Ferries to Germany's North Seaislands were kept in port and some industrial plants closed.

"The truly dangerous thing about this storm is that thewinds will continue for hours and won't let up," said AndreasFriedrich, a German weather service meteorologist. "The dangerof coastal flooding is high."

Friedrich said people were being advised to stay indoorsbecause of the risk of trees being toppled or roofs blown off. An extreme weather warning was issued for the northern states ofHamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony and Bremen.

The German transport ministry said until Sunday peopleshould limit travel by road and rail to journeys which are"absolutely necessary". Train services were restricted.

The Oresund bridge linking southern Sweden with Denmark wasshut at 1500 GMT. Some railway lines in southern Sweden wereclosed, with high winds expected in the south and heavy snowfurther north.

In Denmark, railroad company DSB said it would stopoperating most trains. Airline Alsie Express cancelled alldomestic flights and the 6.8-km (4-mile) Great Belt Bridge,which includes a 1.6-km (1-mile) suspension bridge section, wasclosed.

Copenhagen Airport, the Nordic region's busiest airport,closed to all traffic on Thursday evening until Friday at 0700GMT due to the storm.

Trains in the northern Netherlands were halted, DutchRailways said. At Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport 50 flights werecancelled, a spokeswoman said, adding there could be furthercancellations.

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