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‘Strongest’ Dutch summer storm kills one, scrambles flights

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The Netherlands was battered by the strongest summer storm on record on Wednesday, killing one person and throwing international air and rail travel into chaos.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, one of Europe’s busiest hubs, told AFP it had cancelled 400 flights after Storm Poly brought howling winds and driving rain.

Passengers wait in line at Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam. PHOTO: AFP

Eurostar trains from Amsterdam to London and high-speed services to the German cities of Cologne and Hamburg were also called off, while many domestic train services were cancelled, Dutch train operator NS said.

Destructive gusts of up to 146 kilometres per hour (kmh) hammered the low-lying country’s North Sea coast, downing trees and prompting Dutch authorities to warn people to stay at home.

A 51-year-old woman was killed when a tree fell on her car in the city of Haarlem near Amsterdam, police said, while motorways were blocked by fallen trees and toppled lorries.

Schiphol Airport said a combination of strong winds, rain and poor visibility meant there would be “very limited air traffic” for both incoming and departing flights until at least 4pm. 

At the moment, 400 flights have been cancelled,” a Schiphol spokesperson told AFP. The airport is a major hub for connecting flights from Asia, the Middle East and the United States to the rest of Europe.

All trains to Schiphol were also halted, causing further disruption for air travellers. 

Coast guards rescued people from a ship near Volendam and a yacht near Urk, both in the north of the country, after they got into trouble.

The Dutch meteorological service KNMI issued its highest “code red” warning for four northern regions, meaning severe disruption was possible.

Winds of force 11, the second highest on the scale, were measured along with a gust of 146kmh measured in the northern port of IJmuiden, KNMI said.

It was the “first very severe summer storm ever measured” in the country, Dutch weather service Weerplaza said, adding that the gusts were also the strongest ever recorded in the summer in the Netherlands.

The Dutch storm season is normally from October to April, it said. 

The government sent out a mobile phone alert calling on people to stay indoors in North Holland province, which includes Amsterdam, and to only call overstretched emergency services in “life-threatening” situations.

With around a third of the country lying below sea level, the Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather and the effects of climate change, and has a huge system of dykes and other water defences.

A violent North Sea storm on the night of January 31 to February 1, 1953, killed more than 1,836 Dutch people.