Worst storm of decade hits London commute, severs power

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Millions of U.K. commuters were told to stay at home and more than 220,000 properties lost power as southern England’s worst storm since 2008 blocked rail tracks, severed electricity cables and closed a nuclear power plant.

Winds peaked at 99 miles per hour at 6 a.m. Monday on the Isle of Wight, according to the Met Office, which issued amber weather warnings, the second-highest level, for regions spanning Wales to the North Sea. London’s Heathrow airport scrapped 130 flights and the Environment Agency posted 190 flood alerts, Bloomberg reports.

“The damage caused by the storm has been more severe than expected,” said Robin Gisby, managing director for operations at Network Rail, the owner of Britain’s train tracks, adding that more than 100 trees had fallen across lines or wires.

Three long-distance lines connecting London with northern England were blocked and hundreds of commuter services were scrapped across the south, Gisby said in a statement. Services won’t restart until engineers have checked routes for obstacles that could derail trains or cause people to be trapped for hours.

The storm, which developed over the Atlantic and has been strengthened by a strong jet stream and warm air near Britain, was expected to produce 20 to 40 millimeters (0.8-1.6 inches) of rain within nine hours, with flooding exacerbated by wind-blown debris, the Met Office said on website. The system’s impact was also felt in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where warnings of hurricane-force winds prompted the idling of ferry services.

Fatalities

At least two people died as the weather system swept across Britain, with a man in his 50s killed as a tree fell on the car he was driving in Watford, near London, and a 17-year-old girl crushed while sleeping in Kent when another landed on her caravan, the Press Association reported, citing local police.

Stagecoach Plc’s South West Trains, Britain’s top commuter operator, halted at least 160 services due to the storm, named St. Jude after the patron saint of lost causes, whose feast day falls today. London’s Metropolitan Police said it received 792 emergency calls between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., about four times the usual level, with most made to report roads blocked by trees.

Some 220,000 U.K. homes are currently without power because of the storm, Energy Networks Association spokesman Tim Field said. UK Power Networks, which distributes more than a quarter of Britain’s electricity, said helicopter patrols are being carried out to assess the state of overhead lines.

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