Storm Xaver has reached northern Europe, threatening the biggest tidal surge in decades and hammering Germany's North Sea coastline. Xaver had already battered northern Britain and killed three people.
Authorities in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden boosted flood defenses on Thursday as Storm Xaver swept in. Scores of flights, ferry crossings, rail services, and one of Europe's long bridges were left idle as precautions.
Hamburg was preparing for a direct hit as eldery residents recalled a fatal storm and flood of 1962. Lessons were cancelled at schools in Hamburg and the adjoining states of Schleswig-Holstein and Bremen.
Authorities warned late on Thursday of floodwater rising to some 5.6 meters (18.4 feet) by 6.30 a.m the following morning.
North Sea platforms shut
Oil and gas producers in the North Sea cut production and evacuated staff from some platforms. Storm flood warnings were also issued for low-lying areas of eastern England.
Off Sweden's southern coast, search air crews looked for two sailors reportedly swept off a ship.
On Germany's North Sea island of Sylt gusts of up to 174 kilometers per hour (108 miles per hour) were recorded. Earlier in Scotland, winds of 225 kilometers per hour had been measured.
High seas forecast
Germany's DWD weather service warned the severe gusts would also occur inland, coupled with snow showers. It said the danger of coastal flooding was high, with levels up to 35 meters higher than normal near Hamburg and Bremen.
Meteorologist Andreas Friedrich said: "The truly dangerous thing about this storm is that the winds will continue for hours and won't let up."
For the first time in 6 years, the low-lying Netherlands closed its Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, which was erected after a 1953 storm disaster.
Belgium's West Flanders coastline was also expecting a major surge of up to 6 meters, the highest in three decades
The Oresund Bridge that links Sweden with Denmark was closed mid-afternoon Thursday.
Fatalities included a truck driver killed in Scotland when winds overturned his vehicle. In England a man on a scooter was crushed by a falling tree. A 72-year-old woman motorist died when her car was swept off a road in Jutland, Denmark.
Germany's federal transport ministry activated its emergency center in Berlin and urged motorists to reduce their travel to "only the absolutely necessary."
ipj/rc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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