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Eight dead as storm whips Denmark and Sweden, strands freighter
COPENHAGEN (AFP) Jan 09, 2005
Eight people were reported dead after a fierce storm swept across Denmark and Sweden on Saturday, as a Dutch freighter issued a mayday call off the Danish coast and more than 341,000 households were left without power, officials said.

Copenhagen's Kastrup airport closed down for several hours, as did the Malmoe Sturup airport in southern Sweden, as hurricane strength winds lashed the region and authorities urged people to stay indoors if possible.

Both airports later reopened.

The Dutch freighter issued a mayday call at 1540 GMT after a fire broke out in its cargo of containers, Lars Hansen, head of operations for the Danish SOK sea rescue services, told AFP.

The 15-member crew tried to extinguish the flames but later evacuated the vessel and boarded a lifeboat. They were picked up by a Danish rescue ship after several hours.

"All 15 are safely on board the ship," Hansen said.

Winds of 70 knots per hour, or 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour, were registered in the area around the time of the mayday, but those winds later subsided to about 50 or 60 knots, Hansen said.

Flames were shooting out of the ship, which was drifting about 50 nautical miles, or 56 miles (93 kilometers), off Denmark's west coast in the North Sea. Efforts may be undertaken to tow the vessel, weather permitting, Hansen said.

Meanwhile, police in Denmark said two motorists died when trees crashed down on their cars. Two other people were killed when a roof blew off a building in nearby Assens, as scores of uprooted trees were reported across Denmark and southern Sweden.

Winds in western Denmark reached speeds of up to 151 kilometers (94 miles) an hour, the Danish DMI meteorological service said.

In southern Sweden, two motorists were also killed when trees fell on their cars and a third was killed by a passing car when he tried to remove a fallen tree from a road. A fourth man was killed on his farm when bales of hay came crashing down on him during the storm, media reported.

The weather also wreaked havoc for rail traffic.

All train traffic in southern Sweden was suspended, and car and train traffic on the Oeresund bridge linking Copenhagen to southern Sweden was also stopped because of the storm.

"There are uprooted trees in several places, rooftiles blown onto the tracks near Helsingborg (in southern Sweden)... It's chaos right now," Mattias Hennius, a spokesman for the Swedish rail authority Banverket told Swedish news agency TT.

Emergency crews were having a hard time reaching people in need of help.

"We have a very chaotic situation here. Emergency crews that are out on the roads are telling me that trees are falling like bowling pins out there. We have motorists, ambulances and firetrucks that are getting stuck between fallen trees," emergency crew chief Jonas Petri in Joenkoeping told TT.

"We're having to saw our way out," he added.

In Sweden, some 341,000 households were left without electricity, primarily in the southern and western parts of the country, power companies Vattenfall and Sydkraft said.

"Unfortunately we think many people are going to be without power until Sunday," Sydkraft spokesman Jan-Erik Olsson said.

Dozens of ferry routes to and from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Britain and Germany were cancelled, while the Swedish coast guard reported that numerous vessels had anchored in the southern Baltic to seek shelter from the storm.

Meanwhile, the Barsebaeck and Ringhals nuclear reactors, both in southern Sweden, were shut down due to the storm, and the Swedish meteorological service SMHI warned of flood risks for several rivers in the south and west due to rising water levels brought on by heavy rains.

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