Winter storm kills at least 13 people in Europe

January 25th, 2009 - 3:18 am ICT by IANS  

Berlin, Jan 25 (DPA) A fierce winter storm packing gusts of up to 200 km per hour Saturday killed at least 13 people in a swath of Europe stretching from Spain to southern Germany.Spain was worst hit. Four children were killed when the roof of a sports hall collapsed in the town of Sant Boi de Llobregat near Barcelona. Two adult trainers and 13 children were injured.

Radio reports said about 30 people were in the indoor arena when the incident happened.

Five other deaths Friday in Spain included a traffic officer being killed by a falling tree and a 52-year-old woman being crushed in central Barcelona when a wall collapsed on her.

Many areas lost electricity in the Basque region where the storm damaged power lines. Fallen trees blocked roads in many towns.

In France, a 78-year-old man died near Dax when he was struck by flying debris. A car driver was killed near Mazerolles when his vehicle was hit by a tree.

Gusts reached up to 170 km/h in southwestern France Saturday, causing widespread damage and leaving an estimated 1.2 million households without electricity, the French power utility EDF said.

Authorities placed 15 departments in the area on high alert and advised the public to stay indoors. The Red Cross was called in to assist stranded travellers.

Streets were blocked by uprooted trees and railway lines were also affected, with trains carrying hundreds of passengers stranded.

Bordeaux and Toulouse airports were shut and the Aquitaine Bridge was closed to traffic. Winter sport facilities in the Pyrenees were also closed.

Many people were left homeless when winds ripped the roofs from their houses. Tens of thousands of French residents were also cut off from communication, as the storm disrupted both landline and mobile phone services.

In southwest Germany, a 70-year-old man was killed when a barn door was ripped off its hinges by the wind and fell on him Friday at Gerabronn. A motorist was killed in a head-on collision blamed on an icy road near Frankfurt.

A landslide caused by rain sideswiped five cars and a truck on a highway near Lake Constance, injuring five people.

The storm was slowly moving eastwards over southern France in the direction of northern Italy, losing power as it went.

Experts, in radio reports, compared the storm to a devastating winter storm, which struck France and other parts of western and central Europe in 1999.

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