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Storm Ciara batters northern Europe with high winds and heavy rain

Storm Ciara battered the UK and northern Europe with hurricane-force winds and heavy rains Sunday, halting flights and trains and producing heaving seas that closed down ports. Soccer games, farmers markets and cultural events were canceled as authorities urged millions of people to stay indoors, away from falling tree branches.

Named by the UK Met Office weather agency, the storm brought massive gusts that hit 93 mph at the northern Welsh village of Aberdaron and 86 mph at the Welsh town of Capel Curig. A British Airways plane is thought to have made the fastest ever flight by a conventional airliner from New York to London due to the accelerated jet stream.

The fierce winds propelled a Boeing 747-436 to make the 3,500-mile transatlantic journey from New York to London in just 4 hours and 56 minutes, landing 102 minutes early and reaching a top speed of 825 mph, according to flight tracking website Flightradar24. Two Virgin Airlines flights also roared across the Atlantic, with all three flights smashing the previous subsonic New York-to-London record of 5 hours and 13 minutes, Flightradar24 reported.

Storm surges ate away at beaches and pounded rock cliffs and cement docks. The Met Office issued 190 emergency flood warnings and urged people not to try to drive through flooded roads. Residents in the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in northwest England battled to protect their homes amid severe flooding as the River Eden burst its banks. 

Three people were injured after a pub roof partially collapsed Saturday evening in the city of Perth in central Scotland. 

Britain Weather
Waves crash over the harbour and a lighthouse, as Storm Ciara hits Newhaven, on the south coast of England, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. Trains, flights and ferries have been cancelled and weather warnings issued across the United Kingdom and in northern Europe as the storm with winds expected to reach hurricane levels batters the region. Matt Dunham / AP

At least 10 rail companies in Britain sent out "do not travel" warnings, while nearly 20 others told passengers to expect extensive delays. The strong winds damaged electrical wires and littered train tracks with broken tree limbs and other debris, including a family trampoline.

London's Heathrow Airport and several airlines consolidated flights Sunday to reduce the number canceled by heavy winds. British Airways offered to rebook customers for domestic and European flights out of Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports. Virgin Airlines canceled some flights.

Lufthansa airlines said there would be numerous cancellations and delays beginning Sunday afternoon and running until at least Tuesday morning. The airline plans to keep operating long-haul flights at its main Frankfurt hub. Eurowings, a budget subsidiary of Lufthansa, canceled most flights for the duration of the storm.

Brussels Airport also saw delays and cancellations.

Two huge ports on either side of the English Channel, Dover in England and Calais in France, shut down operations amid high waves. Ferries were canceled across the region, including in the turbulent Irish Sea and North Sea.

The Humber Bridge in northern England also shut down completely for only the second time in history, according to the bridge's website.

Breaking with her usual Sunday routine, Queen Elizabeth II did not attend church in Sandringham due to high winds.

A cow was spotted on a main highway in southern England after high winds blew down fences. 

A flooded street is seen after Storm Ciara downpour in Hebden Bridge
A flooded street is seen after Storm Ciara downpour in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, Britain February 9, 2020 in this still image obtained from social media video.  Reuters

Adding to the weather woes, heavy snow was predicted for Monday in some parts of the UK.

In Ireland, power was knocked out in an estimated 10,000 homes, farms and businesses. National weather agency Met Éireann warned that a combination of high tides, high seas and stormy conditions had created a significant risk of coastal flooding, particularly in the west and northwest.

Fierce winds knocked out electricity in northern France as well. Paris authorities sent out a warning to residents and tourists alike to stay indoors for their own safety. Parks and cemeteries in the city of Lille and nearby towns shut down as strong winds cracked heavy branches. Open-air markets closed early.

Luxembourg and the German city of Cologne announced that all school children could stay home Monday to avoid travelling under dangerous conditions.

In Germany, where the storm is known as "Sabine," national railway operator Deutsche Bahn canceled long-distance trains to destinations most at risk, including Emden and Norddeich in Germany's northwestern corner, the northern city of Kiel and the North Sea island of Sylt.

"We have learned from previous storms that it's better not to have trains travel into critical regions in the first place," Deutsche Bahn spokesman Achim Stauss said. "What we want to avoid is trains getting stuck between stations."

Teams of railway employees fanned out with chainsaws to remove any fallen trees blocking the tracks.

In Denmark, meteorologists warned about possible hurricane-force winds coming late Sunday, and flights were canceled out of Copenhagen. Danish authorities warned motorists not to cross large bridges, including the Great Belt Bridge that links eastern and western parts of Denmark.

A man takes his dog for a walk as waves hit the sea wall in Saltcoats, Scotland
A man takes his dog for a walk as waves hit the sea wall in Saltcoats, Scotland, Britain February 9, 2020. EDDIE KEOGH / REUTERS

The storm was also expected to smash into southern Norway's coast and hit southern and western parts of Sweden.

In the world of sports, dozens of soccer games, horse races, rugby matches and other events were called off, including the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham. A 10K run in London that was expected to draw 25,000 participants was also canceled.

The Dutch football association called off all matches Sunday in the top-flight league due to safety concerns, as did Belgium's top two soccer leagues, the Jupiler Pro League and Proximus League. A German soccer league match between title challenger Borussia Moenchengladbach and Cologne was also put off.

Yet in the Netherlands, an intrepid band of cyclists made the most of the wild conditions to take part in the Dutch Headwind Cycling Championships.

Using only basic bikes without gears, lightweight frames or drop handlebars, contestants rode a timed 8.5-kilometer (5.3-mile) course along the coast of southern Zeeland province. Blasted by winds, blinded by blowing sand from nearby beaches, the cyclists struggled to stay upright.

"I survived, but it's very tough," said Hans Deting, 56, his right hand dripping with blood after being blown off his bike.

"This is a bucket list thing," rider Edwin van Gaalen explained, as he leaned on his handlebars, gasping for breath after finishing.

Ultimately, the gale-force winds became too strong for the event. Organizers brought the race to an early end after 250 of the 300 riders had finished.

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