LONDON/PARIS: A powerful winter storm battered Europe on Friday, killing two women, and left 330,000 homes without power in France as flights and train services were canceled and coastal areas put on flood alert.
Strong winds caused havoc for some rail passengers who were stranded overnight from Thursday to Friday in a high-speed Thalys train after a tree was blown onto the tracks.
The 210 passengers spent the night without electricity, heating and liquids in the train that was traveling from Brussels to Paris. The track has now been cleared, but the train finally arrived 10 hours late.
“We stopped on the tracks at around 9 p.m.,” said Eduardo Soteras, a passenger on the train.
“At first we had electricity, but then it cut. We found ourselves in the dark without heating.”
Eurostar finally canceled two trains between London and Paris.
France’s Interior Ministry said that about 46 people were injured overnight in weather-related accidents, although none seriously and it reported no deaths.
Authorities said areas worst hit included Normandy and Picardy where respectively 76,000 homes and 61,000 homes were without electricity on Friday — and that emergency services were called out 4,041 times to deal with the storms’ impact.
Britain issued nearly a dozen severe flood warnings — meaning there was a risk of severe flooding and danger to life — and urged thousands of people to evacuate their homes in several seaside communities.
The storm, officially named Egon, also battered Belgium and Germany, where the key international hub of Frankfurt airport canceled 120 flights, according to German media.
In France, a woman was killed by a falling tree in her garden in a village near the Mediterranean resort of Nice, while another woman in Albania was found dead on Thursday outside her home in the southern town of Saranda.
“She died in front of her children. Her husband immediately tried to help by cutting the tree but it was too late,” a French police official said of the death there.
The rose window of a famous Gothic cathedral in Soissons in northern France was also badly damaged.
Winds of up to 146km an hour hit France’s Channel port of Dieppe overnight, while parts of Germany were bracing for up to 30 cms of snow on Friday, according to German weather officials.
Since the end of last week, a winter cold snap across Europe has killed more than 60 people, with homeless people and migrants stranded in countries like Greece and Serbia most at risk.
“Severe winter weather struck southeastern Europe, with extreme cold and snow in Italy, the Balkans and Turkey. This caused many accidents on roads, school closures, canceled flights and hardship for the homeless and refugees,” the UN weather agency said.
The World Meteorological Organization said in a statement that the high-pressure weather system was “moving slowly eastwards over Europe.”
Flood warnings were put in place for much of England’s east coast, while in the Netherlands pumps were used to lower water levels in Amsterdam and surrounding areas, according to Dutch news agency ANP.
Thousands of residents in Skegness in eastern England were urged to leave their homes or move to upper floors, while further south villagers in Jaywick were also warned to evacuate ahead of high tide.
Temporary shelters were set up for local residents, but some appeared reluctant to leave.
“While I know the police are putting on extra patrols, they can’t cover the whole area the whole time,” Jaywick resident Rebecca Kenny, 31, told the Press Association news agency.
“With the security risk, I don’t really want to leave the house,” she said.
Some 100 soldiers were standing by in Skegness to help out and the Royal Air Force is checking for damage.
“Our absolute priority is protecting lives, homes and businesses from the threat of coastal flooding currently facing the east coast,” floods minister Therese Coffey said.
“That is why we have soldiers on the ground helping to warn and evacuate people alongside the emergency services and environment agency teams, who are putting up temporary defenses,” she said.
The storm brought the first snowfall of the year to the British capital, prompting the usual mix of excitement and frustration from Londoners on social media.