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Flights disrupted at Frankfurt airport after severe thunderstorms

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AFP/The Local - [email protected]
Flights disrupted at Frankfurt airport after severe thunderstorms
Lightning and thunder in the Frankfurt district of Sachsenhausen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Torrential rain and thunderstorms battered central and southern Germany on Wednesday night, causing widespread transport disruption and flooding at Frankfurt airport.

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A major storm caused severe flooding in several parts of Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia on Wednesday night, bringing public transport and flights to a standstill in the Frankfurt area.

Between 8 pm and 11 pm in the evening, Hesse was hit by flash floods, with around 60 litres of rainfall per square metre in the state capital of Frankfurt.

In nearby Raunheim, about 58 litres per square metre fell within two hours, while Griesheim was hit by 50 litres of rainfall per square metre and ferocious gusts of winds that reached speeds of around 80km per hour.

In some regions that were particularly hard-hit by the floods, around 50 litres of rainfall fell within just 20-30 minutes. 

The Rhine-Main also saw an unprecedented amount of lightning during the storm, with meteorologists recording 25,289 lightning flashes in a single hour between 8:40 and 9:40 pm.

By comparison, 11,566 lightning bolts were measured throughout Hesse in the entire year of 2022.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Platzregen

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90 flight cancellations

The heavy thunderstorms wreaked havoc at Frankfurt airport, with many passengers unable to leave their planes after landing due to the floods.

According to reports in Tagesschau, passengers returning from Athens on a flight that landed at 8:30 pm were unable to exit until around 11 pm. 

The airport was also forced to suspend ground handling entirely for two hours due to the storm, meaning 34 flights were unable to take off at the scheduled time. 

The airport said it was forced to axe 90 flights while 23 more were rerouted to land at other airports, affecting thousands of passengers.

Some passengers slept on camp beds while many spent the night at the airport hotel.

"Today, the situation will probably stabilise again," a spokesman told AFP. "There are still passengers here who need to be booked onto new flights."

However, due to the disruption on Wednesday, the airport said further delays and backlogs could be expected on Thursday.

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"Yesterday’s weather conditions will proceed to affect today’s flight schedule," the airport cautioned on X (formerly known as Twitter).

"Due to increased passenger volume, we advise all passengers to arrive at the airport 2.5 hours before their flight time."

Frankfurt's public transport was also disrupted by the extreme weather, with many underground trains, suburban trains and trams pausing their operations due to safety concerns. 

In the district of Sachsenhausen, water penetrated the Südbahnhof, causing several underground lines to be suspended until Thursday morning.

READ ALSO: Germany to see 'extreme heat' and thunderstorms in coming week

Submerged vehicles 

The fire service in Germany's financial capital said they launched over 500 operations from late Wednesday to early Thursday related to the storm.

There were more than 350 instances of water flooding into buildings and 17 fallen trees, they said, adding that off-duty personnel were called in to help.

The storm also affected other areas, with residents of Gelsenkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia experiencing heavy flooding. 

Streets, cellars and lower-lying residential areas were rapidly overwhelmed with water, while trees toppled over, hitting vehicles, the fire service said.

Emergency services pump water out of a flooded street in Essen.

Emergency services pump water out of a flooded street in Essen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Weber

Emergency service workers rescued people from vehicles at several highway underpasses.

In one area, parked vehicles became submerged and some streets were only passable with inflatable boats.

Experts say that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of floods.

In 2021, Germany's western regions of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were hit by catastrophic flash floods that killed over 180 people.

Work to rebuild infrastructure in the damaged regions continues to this day. 

READ ALSO: How flash floods left a trail of destruction in western Germany

More storms expected

On Thursday, the German Weather Service predicts highs of between 22C and 29C and the potential of more thunderstorms.

Going into the weekend, the weather will be hot and muggy, with temperatures of up to 35C in the south and up to 30C in the north.

Saturday could bring more strong winds, thunderstorms and heavy rainstorms, which are likely to subside in most regions of the country on Sunday, leaving relatively sunny and dry weather in its wake. 

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