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Storms batter southern Britain

Severe flood warnings have been issued
March 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Winds that topped 80 mph battered Britain's southern coasts on Monday, uprooting trees, toppling power lines and shutting several busy ports. The coast guard rescued a petroleum tanker that ran into trouble in a stormy English Channel. With more gales expected, officials warned people to avoid coastal areas, where a combination of high tides and huge waves brought flooding to several towns. The Environment Agency issued 40 flood warnings across the country.

Southwest England and south Wales were worst hit by the winds roaring in from the Atlantic, with a gust of 82 mph recorded in Devon.

Swans paddled up the main street of Flushing in the southwest county of Cornwall, one of several seaside communities where the sea breached harbor walls. Further east, residents stacked up sandbags.

"Because of the height of the tides and the intensity of the winds, we expect to see some areas where waves are crashing over the beach and coastal roads and some properties may be flooded," said Environment Agency spokesman Simon Hughes. "The timing of these weather systems with high tide is crucial."

The storm caused major disruption to travel and shipping. Ferry traffic between Portsmouth and Bilbao in northern Spain was canceled, and the port of Dover, one of the country's busiest, was closed to shipping for several hours because of the wind.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said a Swedish tanker, Astral, carrying 13 crew members and a cargo of gas oil, began dragging anchor and ran aground off the Isle of Wight in the Channel.

Two coast guard tugs fought rough seas to tie a line to the vessel and tow it to its destination, an Esso oil refinery in Fawley on England's south coast.

Across the Channel, a Dutch cargo ship ran aground in the Vendee region on France's west coast. Maritime officials said it was approaching the port when high winds pushed it off course.

In Belgium, winds up 60 mph caused delays at Brussels airport and led authorities to close roads. Authorities issued a storm warning for the North Sea coast, where even stronger winds were expected.

Northern England and Scotland were hit by blowing snow. Further south, commuters battled through driving rain. Train services were delayed by damaged power lines in many areas, and uprooted trees across roads added to the delays for travelers.

More than 11,000 people were left without electricity, power companies said. Across the country there were reports of damaged roofs, fallen scaffolding and several injuries.

Heathrow Airport said about 100 short-haul flights were canceled Monday because of the storm. Several inbound flights to London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports were diverted to other airports.

The winds eased during the day, but meteorologists anticipated gales of 40 mph to 50 mph.

"We are expecting some strong winds through tomorrow and Wednesday," said Meteorological Office spokeswoman Helen Chivers. "We have got two or three days of this still to come."

The storm is the worst to hit southern England this year. Last month, northern Britain was hit by blizzards and 70 mph winds.

Last year, low-lying areas across England suffered severe flooding as rivers overflowed causing millions of dollars in damage.

 

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