High winds kill eight and cut power in central Europe

VIENNA/PRAGUE (Reuters) - Gale-force winds hammered Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic on Saturday, killing at least eight people, snarling transport networks and cutting power lines.

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In Germany, trains were delayed by uprooted trees and an intercity express collided with a fallen tree between the cities of Cologne and Koblenz, injuring the driver.

Nearly 130 flights to or from Frankfurt airport were either cancelled or diverted, a spokesman said.

Officials said air traffic in Austria and the Czech Republic was also briefly interrupted when the storm, packing winds of between 155 kph (96 miles) and 180 kph (110 mph) lashed parts of central Europe.

The storms left a mounting death toll across the region.

Austrian media reported that four people had died as a result of the storm, three of them foreigners on holiday.

Two people died when uprooted trees smashed into their cars in Lower Austria province, near Vienna, and Tyrol province in the northwest, police and rescue services quoted by national news agency APA said. One of the two was identified as a 77-year-old German tourist.

A 69-year-old German tourist was killed by a falling tree at a Tyrol campground. The fourth, believed to be a British tourist, died when a boulder loosened by high winds struck the taxi he was riding in through a mountain valley near Salzburg.

A 72-year-old motorcyclist in Bavaria, Germany, was killed when a gust blew him into advancing traffic, police said.

Another man, aged 58, was crushed in his car by a falling pine near to Betzdorf in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Several others in Germany were injured when the storm damaged buildings.

In the Czech Republic, an 11-year-old girl was killed by a falling tree north of Prague, and flying metal sheets struck and killed an 80-year-old priest in a town east of the central European country’s capital, news agency CTK said.

Falling trees and other debris blocked transport routes and cut power in some parts of the region.

A fallen high-voltage grid pylon halted traffic on a highway north of the Czech capital, Prague. Several other roads were closed and rail services were interrupted in many areas, Czech Radio reported.

In Austria, APA news agency said downed trees had also blocked and interrupted train travel.

Power cuts hit tens of thousands of households in Austria; and the high winds also disrupted power supplies to around 150,000 people in Bavaria, utility E.ON Bayern said.

Reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Jan Lopatka in Prague and Dave Graham in Berlin; Editing by Sami Aboudi