Strong storm blasts northern Europe; 2 dead in Netherlands

A man who escaped unharmed makes a phone call after his scooter was hit by a crashing tree uprooted by heavy winds in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Scores of flights and trains were cancelled in The Netherlands and drivers were warned to stay off the roads as the country took a powerful hit of a storm which was set to lash large parts of Europe. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By MIKE CORDER, Associated Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A powerful storm lashed Europe with high winds and snow Thursday, killing at least two people, grounding flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, halting trains and blowing over trucks in several countries.
Dutch police said one 62-year-old man died after being hit in the face by a falling branch; another died in the eastern city of Enschede when a tree hit his car.
Police spokeswoman Jose Albers confirmed the deaths to national broadcaster NOS and said authorities also were investigating whether the powerful gusts were to blame for the death of a 66-year-old man who died after falling through a plexiglass roof in the central town of Vuren.
Passengers were briefly stranded as Schiphol halted flights shortly after 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) before resuming around noon (1100 GMT). Flag carrier KLM already had scrapped more than 200 flights before the storm.
Traffic on Dutch roads was plunged into chaos, with the wind blowing over tractor trailers and toppling trees, hampering efforts to clean up the mess. In Amsterdam, authorities halted all trams and closed the city’s zoo.
The national weather service recorded wind gusts of up to 140 kph (87 mph) in the southern port of Hook of Holland as the storm passed over. Water authorities in the low-lying Netherlands also closed a storm barrier 75 kilometers (47 miles) east of Amsterdam because of high-water levels.
Before halting all trains, the Dutch rail service reported numerous incidents including a collision between a train and a trampoline. In Amsterdam, a man had a narrow escape when a tree was blown over onto his scooter. He escaped unhurt.
Neighboring Belgium also was hit by the storm. The port of Ghent closed because of the high winds and tram traffic halted in parts of the capital, Brussels.
German Railways canceled all train services for the country’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia due to the high winds. The square in front of Cologne’s famous Cathedral was also partially cordoned off Thursday as a precaution amid fears masonry could be blown loose. Schools were closed in many part of Germany, but the German news agency dpa reported only a few weather-related flight cancelations.
In Britain, power was knocked out to thousands of homes. Gale-force winds damaged overhead power lines that supply trains and brought trees crashing onto the tracks, causing severe delays for thousands of commuters.
Driving conditions in parts of Scotland were extremely hazardous, with officials advising motorists to stay off the roads because of blustery winds, heavy snow and ice.
In Romania, snowstorms and high winds forced the closure of dozens of schools, several main roads and ports, and thousands of people were left without electricity.  Interior Minister Carmen Dan said Thursday that some 32,000 people had no power. Authorities freed a bus carrying 22 people that was stranded in snowdrifts in Romania’s eastern Galati region.
Black Sea ports in eastern Romania were also closed Thursday because of high winds, chief traffic official Catalin Bocai told Antena 3.
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Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Raf Casert in Brussels, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, and Jill Lawless and Gregory Katz in London, contributed to this report.