Hurricane Winds, Floods Wreak Havoc Across Europe
BERLIN (Reuters) - Hurricane force winds and torrential rains battered Europe on Friday, killing at least six people, flooding tens of thousands of homes and hampering rail, road and waterway traffic.
Winds of nearly 125 mph and flooding caused chaos in Germany, France, Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic with barge traffic halted on key rivers and toppled trees blocking roads and rail lines.
There were also widespread power outages from the storms, which refocused attention on the odd weather in Europe this winter that has left parts of the Alps without snow because of unseasonably warm temperatures while leaving northern Europe shivering from a cold snap not experienced for decades.
Belgium, swamped by the worst floods in a nearly a decade, put its army on flood alert as many parts the country came under almost a meter (three feet) of water.
The French-speaking south and Dutch-speaking west of the country were worst affected by two weeks of heavy rains.
"Almost every house in this region has suffered grave damage," said Philippe Cloet, a neighborhood flood coordinator in the western town of Ghent.
"All these people will be confronted with water-related problems for the next six months. Because when it subsides, then the real misery begins." Germany's Munich Re, the world's biggest reinsurer, said the total losses to insurers in Germany alone could be as high as the 650 million dollars caused by a storm that hit the country's southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in 1999.
WIND, RAIN, SNOW
Hurricane force winds of up to 120 mph buffeted Germany where a 13-year-old boy was killed and his father was seriously injured when a tree crashed onto their car. An 18-year-old died when his car flipped over on ice near Hamburg.
In Romania, floods caused by melting snow killed three people and destroyed hundreds of homes.
In France, a disabled man drowned on Thursday in the village of Oches in the northern Ardennes region after falling into a flooded ditch, the local government said.
Winds cut electricity to thousands and rain has exacerbated flooding in parts of the west and northwest of the country. Paris was also on flood alert on fears the Seine would rise higher after authorities issued an initial warning.
Flood warnings across Britain remained in force, mostly in the south of the country. Torrential rain over the past week has already caused widespread flooding, causing accidents and severe disruption to the nation's railway services.
In Portugal, heavy overnight rains caused landslides, closed roads and flooded several towns. Emergency workers were also searching for cars which witnesses said had plunged into the River Douro, running through Portugal's famed port wine region. Winds of up to 60 mph hit Austria early on Friday, temporarily cutting off power to thousands of homes.
The Dutch government issued a warning that the Meuse river would rise to near flood levels later on Friday and urged people in the towns of Itteren and Borgharen to evacuate ground floors.
RHINE PARTIALLY CLOSED
Authorities in Germany said swollen Rhine tributaries, the Mosel and Main rivers, had broken their banks in many areas, bringing barge traffic to a halt.
Traffic on the Rhine, one of the world's busiest waterways, was restricted in some areas. A 144 km (90 mile) segment of the river south of Cologne was closed, German river police said.
"It's been raining here hard for the last three days," said an official at the water and shipping office in Cologne, where the Rhine was more than five meters (16 ft) higher than normal at 8.18 meters and expected to reach a level of 8.30 meters later on Friday.
Germany is still paying billions of dollars to repair damage caused by devastating floods that sent river levels in the east to record highs last August, swamping cities such as Dresden.
The German weather service is forecasting more heavy rain that is likely to swell rivers further.
In Helsinki, by contrast, a dry cold snap not seen in the past four decades has been so extreme that the Finnish government has urged people to limit their use of the beloved sauna even as temperatures plunged -- due to fears of power shortages.
At Least 5 Die in Floods Around Europe
The Associated Press, Jan. 3, 2003
BERLIN -- Rainstorms flooded towns from Portugal to Germany on Friday, severing power supplies and destroying roads. The storms across Europe have claimed at least five lives, and several people were missing.
Floods soaked parts of Germany, still recovering from devastating storms that hit much of the continent last summer. The Itz River flooded parts of the town of Coburg in Bavaria, and the Moselle River submerged Zell, a town 70 miles west of Frankfurt.
"The whole town is flooded," Zell Mayor Juergen Bamberg said. "Here in the town hall, the water has already reached the main chamber."
Divers and a police helicopter were searching an area near the Luxembourg border for a 71-year-old man whose car was found abandoned near an overflowing tributary to Moselle.
In Belgium, flooding caused by two weeks of rain inundated hundreds of homes, cutting off a dozen villages around the Meuse River and forcing the government to put the army on alert.
One man drowned early in the week and two women have disappeared and are presumed drowned.
Rescuers in Portugal were searching for a car that reportedly fell into the Douro River after a road collapsed because of heavy rain.
In the Czech Republic, water from rain and melting snow raised river levels, flooding fields and roads. The rising water in the Vltava River prompted authorities in Prague to close parts of the embankment and ban boat traffic.
Winds gusted to more than 90 mph in parts of southern Germany and Switzerland overnight, causing widespread damage and scores of traffic accidents.
A 13-year-old boy was killed and his father seriously injured when a tree fell on their car near Stuttgart. A passenger train was derailed by fallen trees to the west of the same city.
Gales swept France on Thursday, felling electricity pylons across the country. About 10,000 people still were without power Friday.
In Switzerland, the wind toppled the Christmas tree in the center of Basel onto nearby tram lines. Officials in the capital Bern estimated the damage to buildings in the city at $2.9 million.
Officials in Germany said the Rhine was expected to rise by about 20 feet in Koblenz by Saturday evening, flooding parts of the city. Firefighters prepared boats and thousands of sandbags.
Authorities in Cologne were uncertain whether the Rhine would top 33-foot steel flood barriers that protect the city center. Parts of the former German capital, Bonn, were also threatened.
Shipping was halted on the Moselle and parts of the Rhine, a major route for barge traffic between several cities and the North Sea port of Rotterdam.
On Thursday evening, an 18-year-old man died near the north German city of Hamburg when his car skidded on a snow-covered road and collided with a tree. A 17-year-old passenger was seriously injured, police said.
In Romania, a river swollen by melted snow swept away a mountain cabin Wednesday, killing a 19-year-old female student and another 15-year-old girl who were celebrating the New Year.
Police said Friday that another person is still missing after the incident near Poiana Teiului, about 220 miles north of Bucharest.
Copyright © 2003, The Associated Press