After the Storm Europe Cleans Up

A day after "Kyrill" battered Europe with hurricane-force winds, the continent is struggling to get back to normal. With oil spills, ships threatening to sink, computer viruses and damage estimates in the billions, that may take awhile.


As the weather began settling down across most of Europe on Friday, the continent was struggling to get things back to normal a day after a violent storm battered a dozen countries with high winds and torrential rains. Utility company crews were racing to restore power to millions left in the dark, clean-up crews were clearing downed trees off railroad tracks and roads, and residents were surveying damage to their homes.

In Germany, where rail service had been cancelled virtually across the entire country on Thursday, trains were once again beginning to run and air service had largely returned to normal. In Great Britain too, air traffic had been restored though a number of flights were cancelled due to continued high gusts on Friday morning. Flood warnings remained in effect in parts of Great Britain and Germany.

Still, cleanup promises to take a lot longer. With winds reaching speeds of over 202 kilometers per hour (126 m.p.h.), the storm was the strongest seen in Europe since 1999; Great Britain hadn't seen such violent winds since the Burns' Day Storm in 1990. At least 46 people were killed by the storm, according to the AP, and tens of thousands of people were stranded by blocked roads and rail lines. The high winds likewise ripped the roofs off houses and buildings across the continent. Germany's insurance industry estimated on Friday that the storm's price tag could end up being several billion euros.

In Berlin, officials on Friday afternoon were still trying to determine how a two-ton girder managed to fall off the city's brand-new central railway station. The beam fell 40 meters onto an outdoor staircase, though nobody was injured in the accident. Just north of the German capital, the roof blew off the memorial at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

A French tugboat on Friday was towing a stricken British container ship to safety after it threatened to break up in high seas on Thursday evening and had to be evacuated. The MSC Napoli developed deep cracks in its hull and seemed ready to split in half and sink, prompting the British Royal Navy to pluck the 26 crew members off the ship in a highly dangerous helicopter mission. The ship is carrying 41,700 tons of cargo, of which 1,700 is flammable material.

In Rotterdam, officials were struggling to clean up an oil spill caused by a container ship breaking free of its moorings and drifting into an oil jetty. Some 500 to 800 tons of crude oil spilled, disrupting shipping at Europe's largest port. "Two ships are cleaning the mess today and will most probably finish the job tomorrow," a port spokesman told Reuters.

Perhaps the oddest result of the storm is a virus blowing through European computers in a rare real-time attack. Called the Storm Worm by the Finnish data security company F-Secure, hackers sent out hundreds of thousands of e-mails with the subject line "230 dead as storm batters Europe." The e-mail contained "malware" that can infiltrate and damage computer files. "What makes this exceptional is the timely nature of the attack," Mikko Hypponen, head of research at F-Secure, told Reuters.

Over a million houses in Germany were hit by power outages on Thursday night as were tens of thousands in Poland and Austria. Officials of the Czech power utility reported that 27 percent of their customers had lost power -- more than 1 million people -- and they declared a state of emergency on Friday morning allowing them to get help from security forces. Widespread power outages were also reported in Slovakia and Romania.

Twelve people lost their lives in Germany, many of them having been hit by downed trees. A toddler was killed in Bavaria when a balcony door blew off its hinges. A 73-year-old, also in Bavaria, was killed by a barn door. In Great Britain, 14 people were killed including a two-year-old boy in London who was crushed by a falling wall. Six people were killed in the Netherlands, six in Poland, three in France and two in Belgium. The death toll was the highest since 1999 when a storm caused the deaths of 120 people.

Ukraine shut down the "Druzhba" crude oil pipeline -- which supplies Central Europe with much of its oil -- on Thursday, but it had reopened by Friday afternoon. Druzhba had been shut down once already in January after a bickering match between Russia and Belarus over the price of oil.

The storm does not come as a surprise. With temperatures in the North Atlantic up to 1 degree Celsius higher than normal, meteorologists had predicted a stormy winter for Europe. And a warm one as well. Much of Europe, from Norway to northern Italy, is suffering from a lack of snow this year with ski resorts suffering heavily from a delayed start to the ski season.

cgh/ap/reuters/afp/dpa

Europe's Most Expensive Storms since 1980

Storm Date Total damage in billions of dollars Insured damages in billions of dollars Deaths
Lothar Dec. 1999 11.5 5.9 110
Daria Jan. 1990 6.85 5.1 94
87J Oct. 1987 3.70 3.1 17
Martin Dec. 1999 4.10 2.5 30
Erwin Jan. 2005 5.80 2.5 18
Anatol Dec. 1999 3.00 2.4 20
Vivian Feb. 1990 3.20 2.1 52
Jeanett Oct. 2002 2.60 1.7 37
Wiebke Feb. 1990 2.26 1.3 64
Herta Feb. 1990 1.95 1.3 30

This data stems from the Geo-Risk Research Department of Munich Re, the world's second largest reinsurance company. These figures have not been adjusted for inflation -- they are the original figures given at the time the storms caused the damage.

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