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Fierce storm lashes Europe; at least 3 dead
Thursday - 12/5/2013, 5:53pm EST
LONDON (AP) -- Britain braced for severe flooding and the worst tidal surge in 60 years after a powerful storm with hurricane-force gusts hit the country Thursday and began moving across Europe.
The storm prompted evacuations, snarled transport and left tens of thousands of homes without electricity. At least three people died in accidents linked to the weather.
About 10,000 homes along the eastern English coast were evacuated after Britain's Environment Agency warned the country could face its worst tidal surge in 60 years. The Thames Barrier -- a series of huge metal plates that can be raised across the entire river -- was being closed late Thursday to protect London from the surge.
Tidal floods -- caused as the storm drives huge amounts of seawater toward the land -- were expected in Britain, Germany and Scandinavia, together with freezing high winds from Greenland.
The Environment Agency put out more than 50 flood warnings for different parts of the U.K., with the risk of flooding stretching into Friday morning.
Rescue teams ferried residents affected by flooding in north Wales to safety by boat, while officials in other areas handed out sandbags and set up emergency shelters. The Defense Ministry said "a small number of personnel" had been drafted in to help local authorities deal with flooding in Norfolk.
The storm first plowed into Scotland overnight, slamming the highlands with gusts up to 142 miles (229 kilometers) per hour. Trains were suspended for much of Thursday, but began to run fitfully later as some routes were cleared of debris.
Transportation troubles, however, spread throughout northwestern Europe. All flights to and from Copenhagen's international airport were halted late Thursday due to the storm, officials said. It was not immediately clear how many passengers were affected or how long the airport -- Scandinavia's largest -- would stay closed.
Almost all flights to and from Hamburg airport in northern Germany were also canceled, and federal authorities in Germany issued a warning for residents of Hamburg to expect a "very severe tidal flood" at about 6:30 a.m. Friday (0530 GMT; 12:30 a.m. EST). Residents were urged to evacuate low-lying areas of the port and along the Elbe River.
The German Weather Service said the storm front, which was gathering strength as it headed eastward from the Atlantic Ocean off Greenland, would also bring polar air and some snow to Europe.
Some schools in the northern Netherlands closed early so children could get home safely to celebrate Sinterklaas -- the traditional Dutch version of Christmas -- with their families.
Passengers on an easyJet flight from London to Glasgow, Scotland, wound up landing in Manchester after aborted attempts to land in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.
As the plane neared Scotland, "suddenly everything started shaking and bumping, we were going up and down, up and down," said passenger Hazel Bedford.
"An awful lot of people were being sick but the plane, it was incredibly quiet. When cabin crew said 'We're going to Manchester,' people started to realize this was serious," she said.
An accident west of Edinburgh claimed the life a truck driver and a falling tree killed a man in Nottinghamshire.
Police in western Denmark said a 72-year-old woman died when the van she was in was knocked over in the storm.
Forecasters predicted winds gusting up to 87 mph (140 kph) along Germany's North Sea coast.
Ferry operators canceled services to some of Germany's North Sea islands and the country's national railway, Deutsche Bahn, warned of likely disruptions across northern Germany.
German authorities reported flooding on the tiny low-lying North Sea islands of Langeness and Hooge near Denmark, the DPA news agency reported. Residents protected their homes with sandbags against the rising waters but Langeness mayor Heike Hinrichsen warned if the seas rose as high as predicted, the "waves of the North Sea will be lapping at the houses."
"Nobody on the islands will be closing their eyes tonight," Langeness resident Fiede Nissen said. "It's already tense."
The Netherlands closed water barriers to protect the low-lying country from high tides, including the Oosterscheldekering barrier in the southwestern delta region, which was closed for the first time since 2007.
Water authorities in the northern Dutch province of Friesland were patrolling dikes to make sure any breeches or damages from the high tides were quickly repaired. The dikes were built to withstand water levels 5 meters (nearly 16 1/2 feet) above normal.
Thursday's tide was predicted to be around 3.3 meters (10 feet) higher than normal, the authority said.
In Scandinavia, Danish and Norwegian police urged people to stay indoors and avoid the gusts.
AP writers Cassandra Vinograd and Robert Barr in London, David Rising and Frank Jordans in Berlin, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Mike Corder in Amsterdam contributed to this story
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