Storm in northern Europe kills 2 people, disrupts transport


A storm brought heavy rain and strong winds across northern Europe overnight and into Friday, bringing down trees and prompting warnings of flooding on the North Sea coast. A woman in Belgium was fatally injured by a falling Christmas tree, while another tree killed a person in the Netherlands.

The 20-meter (65-foot) Christmas tree collapsed onto three people at a busy market in Oudenaarde in western Belgium late Thursday, killing a 63-year-old woman and injuring two other people. The Christmas market was immediately canceled.

A woman who was struck by a falling tree on Thursday in the eastern Dutch town of Wilp later died of her injuries, her employer said.

Pre-Christmas rail travelers in parts of Germany faced disruption. National railway operator Deutsche Bahn said Friday there were cancellations on routes from Hamburg and Hannover to Frankfurt and Munich, while long-distance services from Hamburg northward to Kiel and Flensburg weren't running, among other disruptions.

The company said that falling trees damaged overhead electric wires or blocked tracks largely in northern Germany, but also in the central state of Hesse.

In Hamburg, the Elbe River flooded streets around the city's fish market, with water waist-high in places. German authorities warned of a storm surge of up to three meters (nearly 10 feet) or more above mean high tide on parts of the North Sea coast on Friday.

Streets around harbors flooded overnight in some Dutch North Sea towns including Scheveningen, the seaside suburb of The Hague.

The huge Maeslantkering storm barrier that protects Rotterdam from high sea levels automatically closed for the first time because of high water levels — meaning that all six major storm barriers that protect the low-lying Netherlands were closed at the same time. The nation's water and infrastructure authority said that was also a first. By Friday morning, all six barriers were open again as winds eased.

In the North Sea, the Norwegian cruise ship MS Maud temporarily lost power on Thursday after encountering a rogue wave. Its operator, Hurtigruten Expedition, said in a statement that the 266 guests and 131 crew were uninjured and that the vessel, initially headed for the English port of Tilbury, would be diverted to Bremerhaven, Germany, for disembarkation.

Danish Search and Rescue said the vessel can "maneuver via emergency systems, and it has two civilian support vessels close by."

On Thursday, high winds grounded flights in parts of the U.K., suspended train services and stopped Scottish ferries.

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