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Collapsing Christmas tree causes death of woman in busy Belgian market

Police patrol outside booths at a Christmas market in the center of Antwerp, Belgium, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) Police patrol outside booths at a Christmas market in the center of Antwerp, Belgium, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
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BERLIN -

A storm brought heavy rain and strong winds across northern Europe overnight and into Friday, bringing down trees and prompting warnings of flooding on the North Sea coast. A woman in Belgium was fatally injured by a falling Christmas tree, while another tree killed a person in the Netherlands.

The 20-meter (65-foot) Christmas tree collapsed onto three people at a busy market in Oudenaarde in western Belgium late Thursday, killing a 63-year-old woman and injuring two other people. The Christmas market was immediately cancelled.

A woman who was struck by a falling tree on Thursday in the eastern Dutch town of Wilp later died of her injuries, her employer said.

Pre-Christmas rail travellers in parts of Germany faced cancellations, delays and diversions. Routes affected included those from Hamburg and Hannover to Frankfurt and Munich.

National railway operator Deutsche Bahn said that falling trees damaged overhead electric wires or blocked tracks largely in northern Germany, but also in the central state of Hesse. The situation was improving on Friday afternoon.

In Hamburg, the Elbe River flooded streets around the city's fish market, with water waist-high in places. Authorities said a storm surge in the port city peaked on Friday morning, reaching 3.3 meters (10.8 feet) above mean high tide.

Streets around harbours flooded overnight in some Dutch North Sea towns including Scheveningen, the seaside suburb of The Hague.

The huge Maeslantkering storm barrier that protects Rotterdam from high sea levels automatically closed for the first time because of high water levels — meaning that all six major storm barriers that protect the low-lying Netherlands were closed at the same time. The nation’s water and infrastructure authority said that was also a first. By Friday morning, all six barriers were open again as winds eased.

In the North Sea, the Norwegian cruise ship MS Maud temporarily lost power on Thursday after encountering a rogue wave. Its operator, Hurtigruten Expedition, said in a statement that the 266 guests and 131 crew were uninjured and that the vessel, initially headed for the English port of Tilbury, would be diverted to Bremerhaven, Germany, for disembarkation.

Danish Search and Rescue said the vessel can “maneuver via emergency systems, and it has two civilian support vessels close by.”

On Thursday, high winds grounded flights in parts of the UK, suspended train services and stopped Scottish ferries. British Airways said air traffic restrictions put in place because of the storm continued to affect flights between Britain and the rest of Europe on Friday.  

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