London’s fierce winds leaves 25 people for dead

By Danica Kirka The Associated Press

LONDON – Hurricane-force winds and heavy downpours hammered northern Europe yesterday, killing 25 people and disrupting travel for tens of thousands – including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose plane was forced to circle for 15 minutes before landing amid winds gusting to 77 mph.

The storms were among the fiercest to batter northern Europe in years, ripping off part of the roof at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, toppling a crane in the Netherlands and upending trucks on Europe’s busiest highway.

By evening, weather-related accidents had killed 25 people, including a 2-year-old boy hit by falling brick from a toppled wall in London.

Rice cut short her visit to Berlin in order to leave for London before winds worsened, landing at Heathrow Airport in storm winds gusting up to 77 mph.

“It’s not often you get winds of that sort of strength that far inland,” said John Hammond of Britain’s weather office. “[Rice] did well to land there, I wouldn’t have fancied doing that.”

German meteorologists recorded gusts up to 118 mph, forcing dozens of flight cancelations, shutting schools and prompting the national railroad to suspend services across a swath of the country.

“We are still at a standstill nationwide,” with only a few trains running, Hans-Georg Zimmermann, the spokesman of the national railroad, Deutsche Bahn, told n-tv television.

Hartmut Mehdorn, chief executive of Deutsche Bahn, said: “We have never yet had such a situation in Germany.”

At Berlin’s central railway station, Luise Mazur Reinhold, 79, sat disconsolately on a bench.

“What should we do now? They threw us off the train 10 minutes ago,” said Mazur, from southern Poland, who had hoped to travel to Hamburg to celebrate her husband’s birthday with friends. “We had invited all these people to his 85th birthday, but now we just can’t get there.”

Traffic on the Eurostar, the train service connecting Britain with continental Europe through the Channel Tunnel, was suspended after an electrical cable holder fell onto the tracks near the northern French city of Lille, France’s national railway company said.

In London, harried commuters struggled through a gauntlet of road closures caused by falling debris blown from glass-paneled office buildings and medival churches. The city’s slender Millennium bridge was closed after the suspension structure began swaying dangerously in the wind.

Rail stations across London were also closed, and the evening commute melted into chaos.