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Western Europe cleans up after storm leaves at least 12 dead

LONDON (AP) — Crews cleared fallen trees and worked to restore power to about 400,000 people in Britain as Western Europe cleaned up Saturday after one of the most damaging storms in years.

At least 12 people were killed, many by falling trees, in Ireland, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Named Storm Eunice by the British and Irish weather services, and Storm Zeynep in Germany, Friday’s storm was the second to hit the region in a week.

Winds toppled the spire of a church in Wells, southwest England, ripped off parts of the domed roof of London’s O2 Arena and left a trail of felled trees and damaged buildings across several countries.

A gust of 122 miles an hour (196 kilometers an hour) was provisionally recorded Friday on the Isle of Wight. If confirmed, it would be the highest ever in England. Hurricane-force winds begin at 74 mph.

The Met Office weather service said more strong winds would hit the southern coasts of England and Wales on Saturday, with the potential for further damage, while snow and ice could cause disruption further north.

The U.K.’s National Rail association said “routes across most of Great Britain” remained affected by the weather on Saturday morning, with disruptions to continue throughout the day.

Transport in Germany also remained severely disrupted, with railway operator Deutsche Bahn saying no long-distance trains would operate north of Dortmund, Hannover and Berlin until at least 6 p.m.

The storm left at least three people dead in Germany, including a man who fell as he was trying to repair a damaged roof and a driver whose car crashed into a tree that had fallen across a road.

In the northwestern city of Bremen, a 55-meter (180-foot) crane fell onto an unfinished office building.

A cleanup also was underway in the Netherlands, where four people died as Eunice tore across the country on Friday.

Train services, halted during the storm, remained disrupted with the company responsible for rail infrastructure saying that it was working hard to repair “extensive” damage to tracks and overhead power lines.

Engineers were expected to assess damage to the roof of a stadium in The Hague where professional soccer team ADO The Hague plays its home matches after parts of the structure were blown loose.

Across the country, teams were shifting fallen trees and beginning to repair roofs damaged by the storm.

Rescue teams in Greece searched a burning ferry Saturday for 12 people believed to be missing after it caught fire in the Ionian Sea while en route to Italy, while passengers described a frightening evacuation from the ship.

After working all night to try to extinguish the blaze that broke out Friday, firefighting vessels surrounded the Euroferry Olympia, which was carrying more than 290 passengers and crew. The Greek coast guard and other boats evacuated about 280 of them to Corfu.

“When we got into the boats, I said ‘I escaped hell,’” truck driver Dimitris Karaolanidis told The Associated Press.

Photos taken Saturday morning showed thick smoke hanging over the ship, which was transporting 153 trucks and 32 cars.

A Greek coast guard spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Saturday afternoon that none of the 12 missing people had been found, although she said only small pockets of fire were active in the ferry.

A Greek prosecutor on the island of Corfu has ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire, which broke out three hours after the ferry left the port of Igoumenitsa, on the mainland in northwest Greece across from Corfu, for the Italian port of Brindisi. The Italy-based company that operated the ferry said the fire started in a hold where vehicles were parked.

The ship’s captain and two engineers were arrested Friday but were released the same day, authorities said.

Passengers described a dramatic rescue situation.

“We heard the alarm, we thought it was some kind of drill. But we saw through the portholes that people were running,” Karaolanidis told The AP. “You can’t think something at the time (other than) your family … When I hit the deck, I saw smoke and children. Fortunately, they (the crew) acted quickly.”

“The moments were tragic. It was difficult, guys. Very difficult,” said another truck driver, Dimitris Karavarnitis. “Thankfully the guys responded quickly and … we will return to our families. That’s what matters.”

On Friday, authorities increased the number of missing from 11 to 12 after discovering that one person from the ferry was not listed on the passenger manifest.

The other missing passengers were believed to be mostly from Bulgaria. Officials said the people rescued included citizens of Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Italy, and Lithuania.

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