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Austrians, Slovaks whipped by wind

Austria and neighboring Slovakia have been hit by relentless gale-force winds over the last two weeks, and forecasters say more is on the way.
An overturned car is removed from a highway near Vienna on Monday -- another casualty of Austria's windy storm front. Helmut Stamberg / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Relentless gale-force winds are making life miserable for Austrians, and as if two weeks of accidents, property damage and bad hair days haven’t been enough, forecasters say more is on the way.

“I hate wind!” Herbert Hufnagl wrote Monday in a commentary for the Kurier newspaper, capturing the frustration and wind fatigue sweeping the alpine nation along with the howling gales.

The blustery weather is no laughing matter in Austria, where it’s been blamed for road fatalities, or in neighboring Slovakia, where record-high winds devastated huge swaths of forest over the weekend.

Powerful winds have made driving a treacherous, white-knuckle experience as motorists struggle just to keep their vehicles on the road. Authorities say gusts exceeding 60 mph have blown cars across the median and into head-on collisions, some resulting in deaths and serious injuries.

Whitecaps on the Danube
Boats plying the Danube have had to deal with stomach-churning whitecaps and swells, and a federation representing Austria’s trucking industry said Monday the recent closures of key highways for several hours at a time have cost shippers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Those who have stayed home have had to cope with blown-off roof tiles and fallen trees that have damaged buildings and snapped overhead power lines, cutting electricity to thousands of households.

Tempers and impatience have flared, and speculation over when it will end has become the talk of the town.

“What is up with this wind? It’s been like a hurricane,” complained Gaby Gruenwald, a housewife struggling to stuff grocery bags into her car in the wind-whipped parking lot of a supermarket on the outskirts of Vienna.

Austrians are the first to admit they tend to be weather sensitive. Newspapers print “bio-weather” warnings alongside their usual forecasts, advising readers to expect their joints to ache or their blood pressure to rise or fall with the barometer.

Angina warning
Tuesday’s bioweather prediction, coinciding with a forecasted resumption of fierce winds after a brief 36-hour break, was ominous: It warned sufferers of angina that they might experience chest pains.

In Slovakia, gusts clocked at 108 mph — the strongest since records began being kept in 1936 — wiped out an estimated half of all the timber in the country’s High Tatras mountains. Officials put the loss at tens of millions of dollars.

The government asked the European Union for emergency financial assistance, and residents described the windstorm as an “apocalypse.”

“Everything indicates that it is a wide-scale catastrophe which requires a nationwide civic approach. I just want to call on every citizen to consider how they can help,” Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said Sunday night in an appeal to the nation.

“It is unbelievable that we will not see woods we used to see in the Tatras for the next 70 to 80 years,” Slovakia’s environment minister, Laszlo Miklos, told the Czech news agency CTK.

Hibernating bears “will be shocked in the spring when they wake up” and see the damage, said Tomas Vancura, who oversees the Tatras national park system.