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Eleven dead as worst storm in decades hits Switzerland

Eleven people were killed over the weekend as hurricane-force winds of up to 248 kmh (155 mph) in the mountains, and nearly 150 kmh (94 mph) in the flatlands, cut a path of death and destruction across Switzerland.

This content was published on December 26, 1999 - 08:45

Eleven people were killed over the weekend as hurricane-force winds of up to 248 kmh (155 mph) in the mountains, and nearly 150 kmh (94 mph) in the flatlands, cut a path of death and destruction across Switzerland.

Rescue teams described the weather system “Kurt” – which also caused a number of deaths in France and Germany -- as the worst in living memory.

In Switzerland, the winds ripped off rooftops, flattened hectares of wood like matchsticks, knocked out electricity for tens of thousands of people and severely disrupted road, rail and air traffic over the weekend and into Monday.

The government expressed its condolences to the families of those killed and on Sunday night the cabinet pledged support for emergency and reconstruction aid.

The storm took many Swiss by surprise. Most of the deaths were caused by falling trees and debris that hit car drivers and people going for a walk or pursuing other leisure activities.

A 66-year-old man working on his roof was killed in Neuheim, in canton Zug, when a sudden gust of wind ripped away the top of his house and blew him to the ground.

In the popular ski resort region of Crans-Montana, two people were killed when an uprooted tree crashed into a cable and sent the gondola they were travelling in smashing to the ground 12 metres (yards) below. Three people were hospitalised -- one in a serious condition – in what was described as the worst such accident in five years.

Another 51-year-old man was killed by falling tiles while swimming in a pool in Dielsdorf, canton Zurich, according to local police.

In light of the severity of the storms, the government expressed its condolences to the victims and urged people to follow the orders of rescue officials in order to avoid further loss of life.

The federal authorities pledged extra aid to support cantonal emergency and reconstruction efforts. The government said army units would be called up to boost reconstruction operations, should this be considered necessary.

In some regions of Switzerland, civil protection shelters were opened up Sunday night for those in need, the authorities said.

Police registered thousands of damage calls as the storm winds uprooted trees, snapped power pylons and blew off roofs and scaffolding.

Dozens of key railway lines and many major road links were blocked, mostly by falling trees, and air traffic came to a temporary standstill.

Thousands of police, firemen and volunteers were called out and worked round the clock in the worst storm since 1990, when five people were killed in what was then described the “storm of the century.”

From staff and wire reports.

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