LONDON – Coast guard tugboats headed to the aid of a tanker adrift in the English Channel on Monday as rain and strong winds lashed southern coasts of Britain in the winter's worst storm.
Commuters struggled through the morning rush hour after gusts of up to 82 mph felled trees and power lines, while huge waves disrupted ferries and shipping to English ports.
The Environment Agency issued seven severe flood warnings and urged people to stay away from coastal areas, where high tides and huge waves threatened to breach flood defenses.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the Swedish tanker Astral, with 13 crew members, was dragging anchor off the Isle of Wight. Crews on the two coast guard tugs hoped to tow the vessel to a more sheltered spot, and a lifeboat was standing by to evacuate the tanker's crew if necessary.
Gales roaring in from the Atlantic toppled trees, damaged roofs and downed power lines across southwest England and Wales early Monday. More than 11,000 people were left without electricity, power companies said.
Northern England and Scotland were hit by blowing snow, while further south commuters battled through driving rain during morning rush hour.
Train services were delayed by damaged power lines in many areas, and uprooted trees across roads added to the delays for travelers.
Heathrow Airport said 34 short-haul flights were canceled Monday morning because of the storm. Ten inbound flights to Gatwick airport south of London were diverted to other airports, including a Continental Airways flight from Newark, N.J., which was sent to Dublin, Ireland.
All ferry traffic between Portsmouth and Bilbao in northern Spain was canceled, and the port of Dover, one of the country's busiest, was closed to shipping because of the wind.
Across the Channel, a Dutch cargo ship ran aground in the Vendee region on France's west coast. Maritime officials said it was approaching the port when high winds pushed it off course.
Meteorologists said the gales were likely to subside before gaining strength again later Monday.
Paul Leinster of the Environment Agency said a "potent cocktail" of strong winds, large waves and high tides was expected to last until Wednesday.
"The gale-force winds will combine with spring high tides to significantly elevate the water levels along the coast by up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) over normal levels, which is likely to cause some flooding," he said.
The storm is the worst to hit southern England this year. Last month, northern Britain was battered by blizzards and 70 mph winds.
Last year, low-lying areas across England were hit by severe flooding as rivers overflowed causing millions of dollars in damage.