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Foul weather hits southern Switzerland

Flooding made life miserable over the weekend in canton Ticino

(Keystone)

A slow-moving cold front has settled in Switzerland, bedevilling southern regions with heavy rainfall and ruining crops.

Rain blanketed much of the country over the weekend, particularly in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, causing floods and triggering mudslides.

By Monday morning, the city of Lugano had received 170 mm of precipitation, more than the average total for July, according to the Federal Meteorology and Climatology Office.

Up to one metre of snow fell in the upper mountains, particularly in the Gotthard area, the Bernese Oberland and in the eastern canton of Graübunden, and as far down as 1,700 metres.

The new snow, combined with a forecast for rising temperatures by the middle of this week, has greatly increased the risk of avalanches, particularly in steep slopes and in catchment areas.

The weather claimed two lives in northern Italy. An Egyptian man and his son died after being swept away by high water in the Ticino River, while in the Lombardy region flooding and mudslides resulted in the evacuation of 300 people in the town of Sondrio.

Blocked roads

Over the weekend, five mountain passes – Albula, Bernina, Flüela, Forcola di Livigno and Julier – received 10-20 centimetres of snow, snarling traffic, said Viasuisse, Switzerland's traffic information centre.

Further south, the heavy rains also caused millions of francs of damage in Ticino, but by Sunday evening it had calmed enough to make roads passable, Ticino cantonal police reported.

A combination of flooding, snow and fallen trees also blocked many roads in the valleys and in canton Graubunden.

The damage to roads in Ticino was estimated to be between SFr200,000 ($197,000) and SFr300,000.

Swiss Federal Railways said traffic from two sections of track was also temporarily reduced to one track in Ticino.

The weekend's wild weather might have been the final blow for many Ticino farmers, who face a ruined season. After five years of drought, the region had received deluge of rain, spoiling the harvests of vegetable farmers in particular.

"It had rained constantly up until June 20. There were hardly three consecutive days without rain," said Cleto Ferrari, the head of the Ticino Farmers' Association. It is too early to know whether vineyards will also be affected.

Insurance companies have received roughly 500 claims from farmers relating to hail damage over the weekend, but only one from Ticino, where most farmers are only marginally covered against weather-related damage.

swissinfo with agencies

Wild weather

August 2007: Flooding. Total cost not yet known.

June 8, 2007: Three people died in flooding in Huttwil and Eriswil in the Emmental region.

August 21-23, 2005: Eight people died after heavy rainfall and flooding in Bern and east and central Switzerland. Many road and rail connections were washed out, with the mountain villages of Engelberg and Lauterbrunnen cut off. The damage came to SFr2.5 billion.

October 14-15, 2000: Persistent rain in Valais led to landslides and flooding. Sixteen people died, including 13 in the village of Gondo. The bill came to SFr500 million.

May 15, 1999: Damage estimated at SFr580 million was caused after storms in several regions, including Bern, Thun, Rheinfelden and Lake Constance.

September 24, 1993: After heavy rainfall, the River Saltina burst its banks, causing severe damage in the town of Brig. Two people died, with damage estimated at SFr600 million.

Summer 1987: Eight people died after storms in Poschiavo, southeastern Switzerland, and the Reuss plain in central Switzerland. Damage totalled SFr1.3 billion.

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