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Hurricane-force gusts batter Britain, France and the Netherlands; travel delays reported

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LONDON - A major storm with hurricane-force gusts is lashing southern Britain, parts of France and Netherlands, causing flooding and travel delays, including the cancellation of roughly 130 flights at London's Heathrow Airport.

Express train services between central London and Gatwick and Stansted airports were suspended because of the storm, and the major English port of Dover was closed, leading to a cutoff in ferry service to France.

Thousands of homes in northwestern France lost electricity, while in the Netherlands several rail lines were closed, airport delays were reported, and citizens were warned against riding their bicycles — a favoured form of transport — because of high winds. Amsterdam's Central railway station was shut by storm damage.

Sweden's Meteorological Institute upgraded its advisory Monday, warning that a "class 3" storm that could pose "great danger to the public" was expected to hit western and southern Sweden on Monday evening.

Some English rail lines shut down Monday morning, and some roads were closed due to fallen trees and power lines. There were severe delays on many parts of the London Underground network and the opening of the Overground network was delayed several hours.

Air travellers and commuters were advised to check conditions before starting any journeys. Widespread delays were expected as major London train lines delayed their opening because of the winds and tree hazards.

In Kent, police said a 17-year-old girl died after a tree fell onto the caravan home she was sleeping in. Hertfordshire police said a man in his 50s was killed when a tree fell on a car in Watford.

But damage was less than feared in the 48 hours leading up to the storm, when the British press raised alarm bells about a possibly catastrophic storm.

British Airways said its long haul flights were expected to operate normally but domestic and European flights were operating on a reduced schedule with some cancellations expected throughout the day. It said Gatwick and City airport operations should not be affected.

Weather forecasters say it is one of the worst storms to hit Britain in years.

UK Power Networks officials said up to 220,000 homes were without power.

Flood alerts have been issued in many parts of southern England and officials said hundreds of trees had been knocked down by wind gusts.

Gusts of 99 miles per hour (160 kph) were reported on the Isle of Wight in southern England. Gusts in the 75 to 80 miles per hour range were reported on the mainland.

The storm has hurricane-force gusts but is not classified as a hurricane. It was not formed over warm expanses of open ocean like the hurricanes that often develop in the Caribbean and threaten the east coast of the United States.

A blog from Britain's national weather service, known as The Met Office, says Britain does not get hurricanes because hurricanes are "warm latitude" storms that draw their energy from seas far warmer than the North Atlantic.

The severe storm does not have an "eye" at its centre as hurricanes typically do.

A teenage boy was believed to have drowned Sunday after being swept to sea while playing in the surf. A search and rescue mission has been called off.

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Cassandra Vinograd in London, Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris, Malin Rising in Stockholm and Michael C. Corder in Amsterdam contributed to this report.

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