Icy conditions cause chaos in Lower Austria

Five days of freezing frost and rain in Lower Austria have caused a state of emergency in Zwettl and parts of Krems. 2,500 households are without electricity and the weather outlook remains grim.

Icy conditions cause chaos in Lower Austria
Fallen trees are removed from a road near Ottenschlag, in Zwettl. Photo: APA/PFARRHOFER

Many roads in Lower Austria have been closed due to dangerous, icy conditions. In Krems the municipalities of Lichtenau, Weinzirl am Walde, Albrechtsberg an der Großen Krems, Jaidhof, Gföhl and St. Leonhard am Hornerwald have been declared disaster zones. The fire service is working around the clock and has been called out 1,000 times since Friday.

Firefighters are only responding to life and death emergencies during the night as conditions in the dark are so dangerous. In the district of Krems more than 20 such missions were carried out in the early hours of Wednesday morning – mainly responding to fallen trees on major roads and problems with emergency generators.

In Wolfshoferamt a tree fell on a house but firefighters were able to rescue the owner of the house, despite considerable damage to the property.

Doctors in the Waldviertel have been particularly busy setting casts, due to the number of people who have slipped on ice and broken limbs.

Dozens of emergency generators have been set up to help homes currently without electricity and heating, after power cables were downed. “With the current low temperatures it’s especially dangerous for families with young children”, Stefan Zach from electricity company EVN said.

“The main problems are with the connections between our substations and transformer stations. In cases where we cannot repair the lines, because of fallen trees, we are bringing emergency generators to households,” he added.

Strong winds are forecast for the Waldviertel on Wednesday, which could cause ice-covered trees to fall.

People have been advised to avoid entering woodland areas, and to stay away from trees, telephone masts, and electricity cables. 

Conditions are also bad around Wiener Neustadt, and access to the Hohe Wand mountain ridge has been blocked due to dangerous black ice. Some people in the area have had to leave their homes and are being cared for by a crisis team.

In Mattersburg, Burgenland the Landesstraße has been closed in the direction of Lower Austria. Around 100 people are effectively trapped in their homes until it reopens.

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Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.