Source AP ©

Europe seized by powerful storm

Hundreds of people are evacuated in eastern England because of the mighty storm in the North Sea . Great Britain and the Netherlands had to use flood defense to protest their shores from giant surges.

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

The Thames River barrier, downstream from London, was also closed as a precaution.

Waves up to 20 feet (6 meters) high were rolling up against sea defenses in Lowestoft, England, the most easterly point of Britain about 120 miles (190 kilometers) northeast of London on the North Sea coast.

Wind gusts of up to 110 kph (66 mph) whipped northern France during overnight storms, blowing off rooftops and uprooting trees, according to the regional emergency services. No injuries were reported.

Hundreds of people in the highest risk areas in England have been evacuated from their homes, but some opted to remain and move upstairs with all their valuables.

Four emergency shelters at schools in the area were almost full with evacuated residents, officials said.

Great Yarmouth , just north of Lowestoft , was also closed to traffic as the River Yare rose nearly to the surface of bridges. Police in Norfolk said rising water had breached the flood defenses in the town center.

British authorities rushed sandbags and other supplies to threatened areas in a bid to bolster flood defenses.

The government "stands ready to help local communities with any difficulties that arise," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Residents, however, were divided on whether the storm lived up to the warnings.

"We were told it was going to be the worst floods for 50 years but, so far, it looks like we may have escaped," said John Harrison, 60, who was watching from a bridge near Lowestoft .

Another resident of the town said "It's quite spectacular." "I've lived here all my life and never seen anything like it," added Chris Warnes, 55.

The storm did not hit Germany as hard as expected Thursday night but meteorologists were expecting a storm surge along the North Sea coast Friday afternoon, and the port of Hamburg was closed.

The Dutch weather service KNMI predicted expected wind gusts of up to 100 kph (60 miles per hour) along the coast to last throughout the afternoon, and Amsterdam 's Schiphol airport warned passengers of possible delays and cancellations.

Some ferries to islands located off the northwest Dutch coast were halted, and state broadcaster NOS reported minor flooding in areas outside protective dikes.

Sea levels were expected to reach heights of 4 meters (13 feet) above normal in the far northern city of Delftzijl by early afternoon, the agency said.

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 , have been canceled, according to the Danish Road Directorate.

Half a dozen surfers took advantage of the storm to test the waves off Great Yarmouth.

Britain 's Environment Agency posted severe flood warnings for the coast from Lowestoft to Aldeburgh, and for the lower reaches of the River Bure and the River Yare.

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