BERLIN (AFP) - The British Isles and Germany were battered by a severe storm front packing gale-force winds that left one man dead in northwest England, with forecasters predicting worse to come.

Winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour ripping through western and central Germany, moving eastwards.

Meteorologists said the storm was shaping up to be the worst to hit the country in four or five year.

In England, a 54-year-old man was killed when a tree smashed into his car windscreen early in the morning in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, with the storm causing chaos on road and rail transport and closing ferry ports, officials said.

"The crew found a large branch had fallen from a tree on to the road. Part of it had gone into the windscreen of a 4x4 car," said West Midlands Ambulance Service spokesman Murray MacGregor.

The storm has caused heavy rains throughout Germany, with flight cancellations at Frankfurt airport, Germany's busiest, a spokesman for its operators Fraport said.

At least 17 flights had been cancelled by 1000 GMT.

Authorities told Germans to stay indoors in the afternoon and not to park their cars under trees or near the sea because of the risk of flooding, and warned of severe flooding along the coast.

Winds could reach speeds of up to 150 kph (93 mph) near the sea and in mountain regions, the national weather bureau in Offenbach said.

The head of the German rescue services (THW), Albrecht Broemme, said tens of thousands of emergency workers were on standby.

"If this hits all of Germany, things could become pretty bad," he said.

He advised people to remove furniture and potted plants from their balconies and to keep windows and doors closed to minimise storm damage.

Gusts of 158 kph (99 mph) were recorded on the Isle of Wight, off the English south coast, while forecasters warned of gusts of up to 130 kph (80 mph) on high ground and coastal areas and up to 110 kph (70 mph) in other areas.

Rail firm GNER ran only 75 percent of its normal mainline trains between London and Edinburgh, after rail authorities enforced speed restrictions. In the south, the Channel port of Dover was closed.

In the Peak District, northern England, two men were rescued overnight after getting lost in heavy winds and driving rain. They were treated for exposure and hypothermia.

Rain and violent winds gusting up to 140 kph (87 mph) also lashed northern France, creating perilous conditions for motorists and pedestrians, the national weather service said.

The entire top third of the country -- including Paris -- was under orange alert because of the storm.

Meteorologists at Meteo-France said France would feel the brunt of the storms in the afternoon and late into the evening.

In Italy, meanwhile, 80 flights were cancelled early Thursday at Rome's main Fiumicino airport because of fog, the airport news agency Telenews reported.

Flights to or from Brussels, Casablanca, Paris, Nice, Munich, Florence, Venice and Amsterdam were among the 38 departing and 42 arriving flights cancelled, the report said.