Hurricane-Force Storm Hits Southern Britain

Hurricane-Force Storm Hits Southern Britain

Britain is facing a day of transport chaos after hurricane-force winds battered southern areas, uprooting trees, shutting down bridges and rail services and grounding flights.

St Jude's storm hit the South West from around midnight - bringing winds in excess of 90mph and torrential rain.

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The storm has ripped across Wales and England, felling trees, cutting power supplies to up to 220,000 people and damaging vehicles, with some of the worst weather expected during the morning rush hour.

A tree has crushed a house in Bath Road, Hounslow, Middlesex, causing a gas main to rupture and a possible gas explosion.

Passengers are being treated for their injuries after a double decker bus was blown over in Hadleigh, Suffolk.

Gusts of 99mph have been recorded at the Needles on the Isle of Wight, according to the Met Office, while the Environment Agency has put in place 16 flood warnings and 134 flood alerts.

Winds have topped 80mph along southern coastal areas, becoming turbulent inland also reaching 75mph in Yeovilton in Somerset and 79mph at Andrewsfield in Essex.

In Newhaven, East Sussex, the family of a 14-year-old boy who was swept into the sea are said to be "distraught" after coastguard rescuers were forced to call off their search.

Whitehall has been closed in both directions in Westminster, London, after a crane collapsed onto the Cabinet Office which was evacuated.

Prime Minister David Cameron has held talks with government departments and agencies to ensure they are prepared for the storm's impact, while transport minister Baroness Kramer urged commuters to stay at home until the worst of the weather has passed.

Most train operators have cancelled all services in the south of England before 9am - with further disruption expected throughout the day.

Network Rail said: "Trains will not be allowed to run until the worst of the storm has passed and engineers have been able to check railway lines in daylight for fallen trees, branches or any other debris which may have blown onto or damaged the infrastructure."

Heathrow airport has cut capacity for all airlines by 20% between 6am and 11am and cancelled 60 flights before the storm hit the mainland.

Sky's Home Affairs Correspondent Mark White said airline workers have been briefed that winds of up to 80 knots (90+ mph) could last until midday at Heathrow.

Engineers have warned that they will be unable to open aircraft cargo hatches or operate walkways used to offload passengers in winds of more than 40-45 knots.

Airlines are believed to be making plans to divert planes to airports in the north of the UK if necessary.

Ferry services have resumed at the Port of Dover which was temporarily closed after gusts of 65 knots were recorded in the area.

Both crossings over the Severn Estuary, the QEII Dartford Crossing bridge and the Sheppey Crossing in Kent are all closed to traffic while the Highways Agency issued warnings for high-sided vehicles, caravans and motorbikes.

The Royal Parks - which include Hyde Park and Regents's Park in London - have been closed amid concerns for the safety of park users, drivers and cyclists. Trees in the parks have also been damaged.

Sky News Weather Presenter Isobel Lang said: "The worst is just about over. The storm is clearing out into the North Sea, but it is currently bringing 70 to 80mph gusts to East Anglia and Kent. These winds should slowly subside in the next hour."

Some 50mm of rainfall in 12 hours has been recorded in Otterbourne in Hampshire and about 44mm in Cardiff.

Baroness Kramer said: "Don’t travel unless you have to. If you do have to travel then check with your rail operator or the Highways Agency that it is safe to do so.

"Use common sense. I wouldn’t want to be on the roads in the dark later tonight."

The Environment Agency has teams working to minimise river flood risk, clearing debris from streams and unblocking culverts.

A spokesman added: "Seafronts, quaysides and jetties should be avoided due to the risk of overtopping by waves and wind-blown shingle."

Met Office severe weather alerts are in place, with an amber warning, meaning "be prepared", for the southern half of England and Wales.

A yellow warning, meaning "be aware", has been issued for the rest of Wales and England.

In London, the Metropolitan Police has urged people to avoid calling 999 during the storm unless there is a real emergency.

The storm has been compared to the Great Storm of 1987, which claimed 22 lives in England and France in a three hour period.

Veteran weatherman Michael Fish, who famously failed to predict its severity, has warned people to "batten down the hatches" and delay their Monday morning journey by two or three hours.

:: For the latest on the storm watch a special edition of Sky News Sunrise from 6am.

:: Send us your photos and videos of the storm.

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