Nine killed in central Europe

WARSAW: Nine people were killed and dozens injured as violent storms slammed Central Europe overnight to Friday, felling trees and electricity poles, ripping off roofs and causing local flooding.

Western and south-western Poland were hardest hit, with hurricane-force winds reaching 130-kilometres-per-hour in some areas.

"Seven people died in all, while 82 sustained serious injuries requiring medical attention," Poland's national fire brigade spokesman Pawel Fratczak told AFP. Most deaths were caused by falling trees, he said.

A 24-year-old pregnant woman was killed in Chojne near Sieradz, central Poland, when a tree branch crashed onto her car. Two children, aged 8 and 13, who were also in the car survived unscathed.

In Krotoszyn, western Poland, seventeen people were injured when a broken high voltage power line fell on them, Fratczak said. Six suffered serious electrocution burns.

High winds also claimed two lives and injured dozens in the neighbouring Czech Republic.

A 75-year-old woman was killed in the northern town of Hradek nad Nisou by falling tree branches, while the body of a man presumed drowned was found after a boat capsized on a river south of the Czech capital Prague.

According to Poland's IMiGW state weather service, the unusually violent storms were caused when hot air masses from north Africa clashed with cooler air systems moving in from western Europe.

"That's what unleashed this enormous destructive force," IMiGW press officer Maria Waliniowska said.

Temperatures rose to 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in Prague and 36.8 degrees Celsius (98.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in Ceske Budejovice, in the southern Czech Republic, on Thursday afternoon hours before the storms.

The torrential rain and strong winds left a trail of destruction in countries across the region.

In Poland dozens of roofs were ripped off houses, basements and roads were flooded and numerous cars were damaged by falling trees and branches throughout the country, including the south-western city of Wroclaw, Poznan in the west and Lodz in central Poland.

High voltage power lines were downed and rail traffic was disrupted in Poland and neighbouring Slovakia.

In Austria, hail pounded 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of crops Thursday, causing estimated damage of 20 million euros (28.4 million dollars), according to the Osterreichische Hagelversicherung insurance company.

Storms were still battering parts of Poland Friday, but forecasts suggested they would not be as violent as those of the previous night.