Hurricane-strength winds batter northern Europe, hit travel

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Hurricane-force winds lashed parts of northern Europe on Tuesday, including Germany and the Netherlands, causing flights to be cancelled, snarling some train services and hitting port traffic.

The Dutch meteorological office issued a code red warning for the low-lying country's northern and coastal provinces, as gusts of up to 120 kilometres an hour battered the Netherlands.

A spokesman for Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, Europe's fourth largest, said 80 flights had been cancelled because the wind had reduced runway capacity. It warned that delays would mount as flight volumes rose later in the day.

At Rotterdam, Europe's largest port, two container terminals were closed, with ships forced to queue out at sea. A spokesman said this was a routine precaution when winds rise above gale force seven. Bulk liquid terminals continued to operate.

Near the port of Vlissingen, authorities were preparing to refloat a 300-metre container ship that ran aground in the small hours near the port of Vlissingen on the Belgian border. The crew was in no danger, the water management agency said, according to NOS public radio.

In neighbouring Germany, weather service spokesman Peter Hartmann said winds could strengthen to 160 kilometres an hour on higher ground, he added. "This could be one of the heaviest storms in recent years," he said.

About 40 flights were cancelled at Frankfurt airport with one runway shut, an airport spokesperson said. German railway operator Deutsche Bahn said it had stopped train services in the central German state of North Rhine Westphalia.

In Britain, winds gusted up to 160 kph overnight, with a major bridge over the River Thames closed for several hours because of the bad weather, causing long traffic delays.

In Belgium, the wind uprooted trees, knocked over lampposts and cut power lines to hundreds of homes. In some places, cars and buildings were damaged by flying debris and some rail and road links were briefly obstructed.

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