Killer winds rip into eastern Europe


  • World
  • Friday, 19 Jan 2007

By Piotr Skolimowski

WARSAW (Reuters) - Winds of more than 200 kph tore through eastern Europe on Friday, uprooting trees, knocking down power lines and cutting a trail of destruction that left at least 31 people dead across the continent. 

Rail and air travel were disrupted and millions of people were without electricity. Cars and buildings were battered by the worst storm in years that also caused widespread floods. 

Workers cut down trees next to a railway track damaged during Thursday's strong winds near the village of Szaflary in southern Poland January 19, 2007. (REUTERS/Petr Josek)

German airline Deutsche Lufthansa expected many flights to be cancelled or delayed, especially in Frankfurt, as winds remained strong. National rail operator Deutsche Bahn also expected major disruptions. 

London's Heathrow Airport said some short-haul and domestic flights were cancelled or delayed. Flights were also delayed in Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

Eleven people died and 200 were hurt in Germany as the country was battered by a storm of the sort only seen every 10 or 20 years. 

In Britain, where winds gusted up to 160 kph in the worst storms in 17 years, eight people died. Six deaths were reported in Poland, three more died in the Czech Republic and three people died in the Netherlands. 

Ukraine suspended deliveries of Russian crude oil through the main export pipeline to central Europe after storms brought down a power line. 

More than one million Czech customers faced power cuts and fallen trees disrupted travel on the nation's railways. Outages were also reported in Slovakia and Romania. 

Meteorologists reported gusts of up to 216 kph at the top of the Czech Republic's highest mountain, Snezka. 

THRILL-SEEKING WINDSURFERS 

In mountains in the south of Poland the wind exceeded 200 kph and some border crossings were closed, TVN24 television reported on Friday. 

One million Poles were without electricity due to power cuts and practice for the Zakopane Ski-jumping Championships was cancelled on Friday because of the weather. 

A lorry driver was killed by a falling tree and one man died when a crane he was operating collapsed. Another person died when the roof of his house was torn off. 

In Szczecin on the western Baltic coast a hotel was evacuated after an uprooted tree fell on a gas tank. 

In Hungary, where winds reached 108 kph, the fire brigade was called out more than 400 times, mostly due to fallen trees. 

In Switzerland, winds gusted to 130 kph overnight, knocking down trees. Authorities warned people to stay home, but Swiss Television showed thrill-seeking windsurfers out in gale-force winds on Lake Neuchatel. 

Computer hackers took advantage of the weather to send out a virus, "Storm Worm", intended to infiltrate computers whose owners opened an attachment apparently containing news about the storms. 

Overnight, thousands of Germans were stranded at rail stations across the country when all long-distance trains were suspended. 

Berlin central railway station, Europe's biggest rail crossing hub, remained closed after the wind ripped a huge steel support from the facade and hurled it to the ground. 

North of Berlin, the wind blew the roof off the memorial at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where thousands of inmates perished under the Nazis in World War Two. 

The storm generated winds of up to 200 kph, uprooting trees and leaving thousands without electricity. In the state of Brandenburg alone more than 150,000 households suffered power cuts overnight. 

About 150,000 households suffered power cuts in Austria, where a falling power cable sparked a forest fire near Salzburg. 

In Britain, calmer weather was forecast for Friday but strong winds were still making driving hazardous. 

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