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Germany begins Friederike storm cleanup

January 19, 2018

Rail and air traffic in Germany have slowly resumed after a winter storm with hurricane-force winds slammed into western Europe. Several people were killed by falling trees and dangerous road conditions due to the storm.

Rescue workers remove a tree that fell on a road
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Rasche

Normality and order slowly returned to Germany on Friday after it was battered by winter storm "Friederike."

At least eight people died across the country as winds up to 203 kilometers per hour (126 miles per hour) lashed western Europe on Thursday.

Read more: Deadly storm Friederike wreaks havoc across Western Europe

Surveying the damage

  • Regional and some long-distance trains resumed service on Friday after rail traffic was suspended across Germany. Many lines remained affected, though, with repairs required on at least 200 sections.
  • Air traffic was largely back to normal after several airports suspended services.
  • Eight people in Germany, including two firefighters, were killed by falling trees, traffic accidents and other incidents caused by the storm. At least 12 people died across Europe.
  • The Bundeswehr deployed tanks to help with rescue operations in Bad Salzungen after a volunteer firefighter was killed attempting to free a man from his vehicle.
  • A woman gave birth in her own car after road closures in Cologne halted her journey to the hospital and delayed emergency vehicles. Emergency workers guided the couple over the phone to deliver baby Anton.
  • Some major roads remained closed on Friday with wind gusts expected to continue in Germany's coastal areas in the north and its mountainous regions through Friday.
  • Thousands of households were without electricity in eastern Germany on Friday, with around 14,000 people affected. In some cases, utility workers couldn't reach power lines because of fallen trees and blocked roads.

How Deutsche Bahn reacted

"In large parts of Germany, neither air, nor car, nor rail transport was possible," said Berthold Huber, Deutsche Bahn's board of management member responsible for passenger transport. "The decision to put the safety of our passengers and staff above everything else was the right one," he said, referring to the decision to halt all long-distance trains during the storm.

But Germany's train drivers union, GDL, criticized Deutsche Bahn's response to the storm, calling the nationwide stoppage excessive.

"Suspending rail traffic across the country when there are only extreme weather conditions in certain places is a jump too far," union chief Claus Weselsky told public broadcaster MDR.

A Deutsche Bahn spokesman told dpa news agency early Friday that "the first long-distance trains are en route."

"We expect that in the course of the morning, all large cities will be able to be reached with long-distance trains — with some restrictions," a statement said.

Read more: German high-speed train breaks down on return from Berlin-Munich maiden voyage

How much damage did the storm cause? The German Insurance Association estimated insured losses at €500 million ($612 million), but that did not include uninsured losses. Actuaries at the consulting firm Meyerthole Siems Kohlruss put insured losses at around €800 million. Deutsche Bahn estimated its repair costs at several million euros.

Do storms often cause train chaos? Trains are often delayed or canceled due to weather. But the last time Deutsche Bahn canceled all long-distance trains throughout Germany was in 2007.

How did this storm compare to previous storms? "Friederike" was considered to be the strongest storm in Germany since "Kyrill" in 2007, which insurers said cost €2 billion, but 2015's "Niklas" caused slightly worse damage.

What happens next? Rail authorities are surveying lines with helicopters, and then testing them with empty trains before opening them to passengers.

aw, rs/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)