Storm Eunice killed at least eight people in Europe on Friday, hitting Britain with record winds and forcing millions to shelter as it disrupted flights, trains and ferries across Western Europe.
London was eerily empty after the UK capital was placed under its first-ever ‘red’ weather warning meaning it was ‘in danger of life’. As night fell, police said a woman in her 30s had died after a tree fell on a car she was traveling in.
Meanwhile, a man in his 50s was also killed in north-west England after debris hit the windscreen of a vehicle he was traveling in, Merseyside Police say.
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Beyond Britain, falling trees killed three people in the Netherlands and a man in his 60s in southeast Ireland, while a 79-year-old Canadian died in Belgium, according to officials in each country.
A motorist was killed when his car hit a fallen tree on a road near Adorp, in the province of Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands.
Dozens of homes were evacuated in The Hague, fearing a church steeple could collapse. Footage showed the steeple wobbling and a large piece of debris falling on a car.
As well as London, the highest weather alert level was declared in southern England, south Wales and the Netherlands, with many schools closed and train travel paralyzed, as towering waves broke levees along the coast.
Meanwhile, Eunice winds knocked out power to more than 140,000 homes in England, mostly in the South West, and 80,000 properties in Ireland, utility companies said.
Around the UK capital, three people were taken to hospital after being injured in the storm, and much of the roof of the capital’s Millennium Dome was shredded by gales.
A wind gust of 122 miles (196 kilometres) per hour was measured on the Isle of Wight off southern England, “tentatively the highest gust on record in England”, the Met Office said.
At the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub in Yorkshire, staff were busy getting ready even though the winds simply remained strong in the northern region of England.
“But with the snow coming now, the wind is picking up, we’re battening down the hatches, bracing ourselves for a bad day and a worse night,” Angus Leslie, the pub’s cleaner, told AFP.
Scientists have said the Atlantic storm’s tail could pack a ‘prickly jet’, a rarely seen weather phenomenon that wreaked havoc across Britain and northern France during the ‘Great Storm’ from 1987.
Eunice caused high waves on the Brittany coast in northwestern France, while Belgium, Denmark and Sweden all issued weather warnings. Long-distance and regional trains have been stopped in northern Germany.
Ferries across the English Channel, the busiest shipping lane in the world, have been suspended, ahead of the reopening of the English port of Dover in the late afternoon.
Hundreds of flights have been canceled or delayed at London Heathrow and Gatwick and Schiphol airports in Amsterdam. An easyJet flight from Bordeaux suffered two aborted landings at Gatwick – which saw gusts of wind peak at 78 miles per hour – before being forced to return to the French city.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has put the British military on hold, tweeted: “We must all follow advice and take precautions to stay safe.”
Environment Agency chief Roy Stokes has warned weather watchers and amateur photographers against traveling to Britain’s south coast in search of dramatic images, calling it of “probably the dumbest thing you can do”.
Peak-hour London streets, where activity is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels, were virtually deserted as many followed government advice to stay at home.
Trains to the capital were already offering limited services during the morning journey, with speed limits in place, before seven train operators in England suspended all operations.
London firefighters declared a ‘major incident’ after receiving 550 emergency calls in just over two hours – although they complained several were ‘unnecessary’, including one from a resident complaining that a neighbour’s backyard trampoline was blowing.
Breakdown service RAC said it was receiving an unusually low number of calls on Britain’s main roads, saying motorists were “taking weather warnings seriously and not driving off”.
The storm forced Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, to postpone a trip to South Wales on Friday “in the interests of public safety”, his office said on Thursday.
Another storm, Dudley, had caused transport disruption and power outages when it hit Britain on Wednesday, although damage was not widespread.
Experts said the frequency and intensity of storms could not necessarily be linked to climate change.
But Richard Allan, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, said a warming planet leads to more intense rainfall and rising sea levels.
Therefore, he said, “flooding from coastal storm surges and prolonged deluges will get even worse when these rare explosive storms hit us in a warmer world.”