(Updates with number of homes without power, nuclear shutdown from first paragraph, Network Rail comment in third.)
Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Millions of U.K. commuters were told to stay at home and more than 220,000 properties lost power as southern England’s worst storm since 2008 blocked rail tracks, severed electricity cables and closed a nuclear power plant.
Winds peaked at 99 miles per hour at 6 a.m. today on the Isle of Wight, according to the Met Office, which issued amber weather warnings, the second-highest level, for regions spanning Wales to the North Sea. London’s Heathrow airport scrapped 130 flights and the Environment Agency posted 190 flood alerts.
“The damage caused by the storm has been more severe than expected,” said Robin Gisby, managing director for operations at Network Rail, the owner of Britain’s train tracks, adding that more than 100 trees had fallen across lines or wires.
Three long-distance lines connecting London with northern England were blocked and hundreds of commuter services were scrapped across the south, Gisby said in a statement. Services won’t restart until engineers have checked routes for obstacles that could derail trains or cause people to be trapped for hours.
The storm, which developed over the Atlantic and has been strengthened by a strong jet stream and warm air near Britain, was expected to produce 20 to 40 millimeters (0.8-1.6 inches) of rain within nine hours, with flooding exacerbated by wind-blown debris, the Met Office said on website. The system’s impact was also felt in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where warnings of hurricane-force winds prompted the idling of ferry services.
At least two people died as the weather system swept across Britain, with a man in his 50s killed as a tree fell on the car he was driving in Watford, near London, and a 17-year-old girl crushed while sleeping in Kent when another landed on her caravan, the Press Association reported, citing local police.
Stagecoach Plc’s South West Trains, Britain’s top commuter operator, halted at least 160 services due to the storm, named St. Jude after the patron saint of lost causes, whose feast day falls today. London’s Metropolitan Police said it received 792 emergency calls between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., about four times the usual level, with most made to report roads blocked by trees.
Some 220,000 U.K. homes are currently without power because of the storm, Energy Networks Association spokesman Tim Field said. UK Power Networks, which distributes more than a quarter of Britain’s electricity, said helicopter patrols are being carried out to assess the state of overhead lines.
SSE Plc said as many as 8,000 of its customers were cut off across central and southern England. The utility deployed 200 engineers and support staff over the weekend to prepare for disruption, spokeswoman Morven Smith said by phone.
Dungeness B nuclear power station, one of nine in Britain, automatically shut down both reactors after electricity supplies to the site were cut off, spokeswoman Sue Fletcher by phone, and it may be a week before the facility is up and running again.
London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest aviation hub, scrapped about 20 percent of flights between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 10 percent between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., with cross-winds well in excess of the 30 mph that can hamper landings and takeoffs. The airport, which usually has close to 1,300 services a day, said about 5 percent of flights will be scrapped from 4 p.m. onwards.
Among aircraft affected was a Singapore Airlines Ltd. Airbus SAS A380, which was diverted to Manchester following its flight from Asia before later heading to its destination.
“These cancellations are being made to give passengers more advance information about their flight and to allow airlines the opportunity to re-book customers on alternative flights as soon as possible,” Heathrow said in a statement.
Gatwick, Stansted and Luton airports are advising passengers to check with their airlines on the status of flights.
As of 10:30 a.m. there were a total of six cancellations out of 692 flights at Gatwick, though trains to and from the site weren’t due to run regularly before 11:20 a.m. Multiple flights at London City Airport were also cancelled or delayed.
British Airways, which is based at Heathrow, said in a statement it was canceling services on European and domestic networks today, but that long-haul flights should operate as normal. The unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA said that all schedule changes will be posted on its website.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron held talks with government departments and agencies yesterday “to hear about all the plans to ensure people are protected,” he said. A spokeswoman for the London Stock Exchange said it would operate a normal trading session today.
While “a major storm for the U.K.,” the system’s winds weren’t expected to match those of the so-called Great Storm of 1987, when gusts of 115 mph brought down thousands of trees and 18 people died, Martin Young, the Met Office’s chief forecaster, said on the government agency’s website.
The center of the depression was just off the north coast of Norfolk at about 9 a.m., the Met Office said by e-mail.
“The winds are easing quickly as the storm moves away to the east,” it said, adding that winds should be “well down” by the time weather warnings expire at noon.
Still, even when train tracks have been cleared, many operators will run a reduced or altered service as speed restrictions remain in place, according to Network Rail.
Commuter operator Greater Anglia and the Stansted Express airport link, which had been due to begin services around 9 a.m., don’t now expect to expect to restart until midday, it said. Southern Trains, including the Gatwick Express service, was likewise delayed beyond the planned 9 a.m. resumption.
Transport for London said there would be no service on the capital’s Overground rail lines until 9 a.m., though Underground trains, largely protected from the weather, were due to run as normal. Eurostar Group Ltd. said it halted cross-Channel rail services before 7 a.m. to allow the high-speed line to be inspected, and initial services then ran 20 minutes late.
Virgin Trains and London Midland, which had planned a normal service, saw service disruptions as speed restrictions were temporarily imposed and lines blocked.
The Met’s amber alert is the middle category of a three- stage weather warning system for the public. The alert covers London, all of southern England, Wales, the West Midlands and parts of the East Midlands, the Met Office said. A less serious yellow alert was issued for eastern England, the northeast and northwest and Yorkshire and the Humber.
“This weather system is typical of what we expect to see in winter, but as it’s coming in during autumn -- when trees are in leaf -- and while the ground is fairly saturated, it does pose some risks,” the Met Office’s Young said.
The storm was also hit western France before spreading to Normandy and Nord-Pas de Calais later this morning, with gusts topping 80 mph on the coasts, according to Meteo France, the national weather forecaster.
About 75,000 homes in France were without electricity this morning because of the first major autumn storm, AFP reported, citing ERDF, the electrical system operator. Power outages were in the west and north of the country, mostly in Normandy and Brittany, AFP reported.
Weather services in Belgium and the Netherlands forecast high winds today, with gusts as high as 87 mph in northwest coastal areas of the Netherlands.
--With assistance from Brian Swint and Matthew Brown in London. Editors: Chris Jasper, Benedikt Kammel.