Britain, France Paralyzed by Storm

Gale-force winds, rains, hail, tornadoes and even snow battered Britain and France as a massive storm packing every kind of punch hammered the region.

Overnight storms stranded ferry passengers at sea, uprooted trees, knocked out power to thousands of homes and shut down roads and railways.

Seven people died in the storm, which swept across southern Britain from the Atlantic before sweeping into western Europe.

Winds of 90 to 100 mph stranded six ferries in the British Channel. It was too dangerous to dock and too dangerous to turn back, so the ships sought shelter in a bay on the southeast coast of England to wait out the storm.

Passengers calling in to local radio stations on cell phones described conditions on board. “The crew is trying to deal with the swells and the shifting of the boat. It’s really quite worrying,” said one.

“All you see are people lining the lounges being ill,” said another.

As force 8 and 9 winds lashed Europe’s Atlantic coastline, the skipper of a Dutch-registered ship was killed when he fell into the hold of his vessel in heavy seas off Britain.

The 14-man crew of the Italian tanker Ievoli Sun was evacuated by helicopter after taking on water off Brittany’s Ile d’Ouessant. Rescuers spotted a pool of chemicals from the cargo polluting the waters around the ship.

Flights Canceled

Gale-force winds, thought to be the worst in this region in a decade, forced the cancellation of many flights into London’s Heathrow airport. All flights out of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport were temporarily suspended and France’s high-speed trains were running at half-speed.

British Airways alone canceled nearly 70 morning flights, with domestic and European routes worst affected. Things were slowly returning to normal this afternoon.

Downed trees across roadways and train tracks paralyzed whole areas of southern Britain. One person was killed and two seriously injured when a tree fell onto a busy roadway, striking two passing cars. Another motorist was reported killed after his motorcycle apparently crashed into a fallen tree.

In France, near the English Channel port of Le Havre, a driver was crushed to death in his car by a falling tree, officials said.

Small tornadoes spinning off the mother storm ripped through communities in southern England. Heavy rains are causing severe flooding and dozens of rivers across Britain have burst their banks. Freak snowstorms brought some regions to a standstill.

In south eastern England, which was hit by serious flooding earlier this month, the Environment Agency issued severe flood warnings for more than a dozen rivers, and thousands of people in Britain and northern France were left without electricity.

Daily Life Disrupted

Commuters have been warned to stay at home as emergency crews struggle to rescue those already trapped or stranded by rising waters.

In London’s financial center dealers said transportation difficulties had hit levels of activity in the market. “A lot of people have turned up late or not at all because of traffic disruption. Volumes are very light,” said one.

Scores of London court cases were canceled, with judges and lawyers unable to make it into the city.

Rail systems across Britain have come to a near standstill and much of London’s Underground services have been suspended.

The SNCF French state railways said Eurostar services between Paris and London were halted due to the extreme weather in England and it slowed high-speed trains shuttling across the flat plains of northern France.

The last time Britain experienced such severe gales was Oct. 15, 1987, when the so-called “Great Storm” tore across the southern part of the country causing an estimated $1.45 billion damage.

Norway and Sweden are now bracing for a hit as the massive storm system heads northeast across the North Sea.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.