Severe weather hit central and eastern Europe on July, 23, 2009 and July 24, 2009, as powerful winds ripped roofs off buildings and large hail caused severe damage. Reports said the storms left a trail of destruction in Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Germany. Wind gusts reached 130 kmph (80 mph) in some areas, downing trees and power lines, according to officials. The strong winds, combined with heavy rain and large hail, cut power to at least 150,000 households and killed eleven people (eight in Poland, two in the Czech Republic, and one in Germany). According to Poland’s IMiGW state weather service, the storms were caused when hot air masses from North Africa clashed with cooler air systems from western Europe.
Western and southwestern regions of Poland were hardest hit by the storms, with eight people killed and 82 injured by hurricane force winds reaching 130 kmph (80 mph) in some areas, reports said. Officials said most of the deaths and injuries were caused by falling trees. They added the storms ripped roofs off houses, damaged buildings, snapped dozens of power lines and blocked several roads with downed trees.
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Fire officials said hundreds of basements were flooded across Poland, including the towns of Wroclaw, Poznan and Lodz. Dozens of homes also had their roofs ripped off in the storm and numerous cars were damaged by falling trees and branches. One of the worst hit areas of the country was around the southwestern city of Wroclaw, where the storm brought down power lines and left some areas without electricity. In Krotoszyn, in western Poland, high voltage power lines were downed and rail traffic was disrupted in Poland and neighboring Slovakia. More than 12,000 Polish firefighters were said to tackling the aftermath of the storms.
In Austria, storms with tennis ball-sized hail, heavy rainfall, and 100 kmph (60 mph) winds caused widespread damage. The wind downed many trees, damaged roofs and tore down public transport power lines and scaffolding on a number of buildings. Officials said the hail damaged cars and roofs while the heavy rain resulted in flooded basements and roads, blocking traffic. The severe weather swept across the region of Kufstein in Tirol, the Upper Austrian cities of Braunau, Voecklabruck, and Wels as well as the cities of Tulln and Vienna. Officials said hail around Braunau damaged roofs and broke windows in an area of 70 square kilometers (27 square miles), while several basements and roads were flooded in Lower Austria.
Reports said emergency officials in Vienna were engaged in around 750 operations to pump water out of basements and clear streets of debris. Across the country, thousands of firemen and ambulance services were called out hundreds of times to assist with uprooted trees, flooded cellars and torn away rooftops. Traffic was disrupted in many regions and thousands of households were without electricity. Hail associated with the storms damaged 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of crops, causing an estimated damage bill of EUR20 million (USD28.5 million), according to the Österreichische Hagelversicherung insurance company.
In Switzerland, meanwhile, severe hail storms were reported in the cantons of Vaud and Fribourg. Crops were badly damage by golf ball-sized hail, with fields of fruit, wheat, sunflowers and vegetables near Lake Geneva badly damaged. Other parts of northern Vaud, Fribourg and neighbouring France were affected by the storm, which was also blamed for breaking rooftop windows. Early estimates suggest the cost of the damage in Switzerland will total around 20 million Swiss francs (USD19 million). A spokesman from the Swiss hail insurance authority, meanwhile, said it expects 5,000 people to file claims from the storm.
High winds also claimed two lives and injured dozens more in the Czech Republic. The storms disrupted traffic across the country and some 150,000 houses were without electricity. In Germany, a driver was killed when he lost control of his car during heavy rains.
Sources: Associated Press, Agence France Presse, BBC News, APA News Service, Houston Chronicle, Waikato Times, Al Jazeera English, Austria Today, Swisster
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