Strong winds cause damage, disruptions in western Europe

PARIS (AP) — A quarter of a million French homes were without electricity Thursday and trains were halted from Normandy to the Paris region after powerful winds swept across swaths of northern France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Local media reported that four people were injured in the Dutch town of Barendrecht, on the southern edge of Rotterdam, as strong gusts ripped tiles off roofs and uprooted trees in a residential neighborhood in the early hours of the morning.

The storm that started by hitting Brittany’s Atlantic Coast Wednesday afternoon blew eastward through the night, felling trees and collapsing roofs in some areas, according to images posted online. France’s national weather service maintained storm warnings Thursday in the country’s northeastern corner that borders Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Wind speeds reached 175 kilometers per hour (109 mph) in the Normandy town of Fecamp, according to the weather service.

Blown-down trees toppled power lines, and the Enedis utility said 250,000 homes were without electricity as of Thursday morning.

Train travel was disrupted in Normandy and Champagne-Ardennes region, as well as on some commuter routes in the Paris region, according to the SNCF national rail authority.

The Dutch rail network also was disrupted Thursday morning by trees that had blown onto railroad tracks.

Germany’s national railway operator, Deutsche Bahn, suspended all long-distance trains in North Rhine-Westphalia state – the country’s most populous, which borders the Netherlands and Belgium. The company said there were cancelations and delays in other parts of Germany as well.

Firefighters in the Belgian town of Westerhoek, close to the Dutch border, tweeted that they had been called out dozens of times over night to deal with storm damage.

Germany’s national weather service warned of gusts ranging up to 105 kph (65 mph) in the north and northeast of the country on Thursday, and up to 120 kph in mountainous areas. But there were no immediate reports of significant damage.

In Delmenhorst, in northwestern Germany, a man was hit by a falling branch on Wednesday evening but only slightly injured. During the night, a freight train collided with a fallen branch in Bad Godesberg, a suburb of Bonn.

Berlin’s two zoos closed as a precaution for the day because of the forecast high winds and the animals were brought into indoor enclosures.