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Powerful Storm In Europe Kicks Up Surging Waters

Updated:
GREAT YARMOUTH, England (AP) _ A powerful storm unleashed tidal surges and ferocious winds that prompted hundreds to evacuate in Britain, but left countries along the North Sea coast largely unscathed.

Early Friday, waves up to 20 feet high rolled up against sea defenses in Lowestoft, the most easterly point in Britain, about 120 miles northeast of London on the North Sea coast. But the peak of the predicted surge passed without causing any major damage.

``It didn't turn out as bad as we thought,'' said Jill Bird, 47, a hotel cook from Great Yarmouth, about 135 miles northeast of London. ``We were very worried because this was the biggest surge since 1953, when several hundred people died. So we feel very, very lucky this morning.''

By midmorning, police were allowing people to return to homes in Britain's low-lying areas.

``It was a pretty close shave,'' British Environment Agency spokesman Jo Giacomelli said. ``It was still very, very high tides indeed.''

Britain closed the Thames River barrier, downstream from London, as a precaution.

In France, wind gusts of up to 66 mph whipped northern towns during overnight storms, blowing off rooftops and uprooting trees, according to regional emergency services.

The storm did not hit Germany as hard as expected Thursday night. But the port of Hamburg was closed, and its main fish market and riverfront thoroughfare were under water.

In the Netherlands, Rotterdam Port halted all ship traffic until Friday evening. The Maeslant Barrier protecting Europe's largest port was closed Thursday for the first time under storm conditions since its construction in 1997.

The national weather bureau said the north of the country was buffeted by wind gusts of up to 50 mph in the late afternoon. By late Friday, however, the high state of alarm along the entire Dutch North Sea coast had been eased.

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport reported numerous delays due to high winds, but few flights were canceled.

Switzerland warned of avalanche danger in the east, particularly on steep north-facing slopes above 8,200 feet. Fresh, loose snow has raised the risk of ``slab avalanches,'' which lone individuals can provoke, said the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

The storm also hit the Faeroe Islands, a Danish territory between Scotland and Iceland, forcing the main international airport at Vagar to close and ferry and bus companies to suspend their services.

A few ferry crossings between Sweden and Norway and Denmark, were also canceled.

Britain's severe flood warnings were lifted Friday afternoon, although the Environment Agency warned that high tides and unsettled conditions could still cause problems over the weekend.

Great Yarmouth was closed to traffic as the River Yare rose nearly to the surface of bridges. Half a dozen surfers took advantage of the storm to test the waves.

Police in Norfolk said rising water had breached the flood defenses in the town center.

``I've lived here all my life and never seen anything like it,'' said Chris Warnes, 55, of neighboring Lowestoft.
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