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Rare ice storm hits Waldviertel

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Rare ice storm hits Waldviertel
Firefighters preventing a tree from damaging a power line. Photo: APA/FF OTTENSCHLAG/FICHTINGER
10:13 CET+01:00
The fire service was called out more than 200 times over the weekend in the district of Zwettl (Lower Austria) as a rare ice storm hit the region, bringing chaos with layers of frozen ice in trees.

Firefighters have been busy clearing away hundreds of trees from the vicinity of homes and power lines.  The trees' branches had been bent almost double by the weight of the ice.

The area near Ottenschlag has particularly been hit hard.  A combination of very low temperatures and high humidity caused many layers of thick frost to form into heavy ice.

Motorists in the region have been asked to exercise extreme caution due to icy conditions on the roads.

Northeast Fire Department spokesman Franz Resperger described on Sunday how many trees were destroyed by the ice, including some with trunks more than a meter in diameter.

Christmas market danger

He also related how some well-attended Christmas markets were faced with the risk of closure due to dangerous overhanging branches covered in ice, but firefighters were able to cut back the affected trees so the markets could open on time.

The cutting and rescue work was expected to continue throughout the weekend and into the early morning hours of Monday.

Slovenian memories

The sight of the ice-covered trees was "breathtaking" and awakened for many reminders of the major disaster operations undertaken by fire departments in northeast Slovenia last winter. 

In Austria's southern neighbour, several hours of freezing rain in February meant that almost all the trees, electricity and telephone poles were broken under the heavy burden of ice, causing almost 200,000 households to be without power.
 
Traffic chaos
 
The fire departments around Ottenschlag, Kirchschlag and Kottes were especially busy removing the broken giant trees from roads, roofs and garages.
 
On Sunday, the B36 state highway had to be temporarily closed because dozens of trees were criss-crossing the street.
 
Such weather phenomenon is not entirely unknown in the Waldviertel, however few in the fire service could recall so many ice-damaged trees.  
 
Fortunately, no one was injured, but the financial losses have yet to be quantified.
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