Snow, heavy rains damage crops, cause flooding in Italy, Austria warns of risk of avalanches

Worried officials monitored Italy's swelling rivers as severe winter weather sweeping across Europe brought more heavy rain and snow today, and authorities in Austria warned of a "substantial" risk of avalanches.

In central Italy, authorities were forced to close roads and evacuate dozens of families from homes near rivers. Local and state personnel in the coastal community of Fiumicino just west of Rome kept a close eye on the ever-rising Tiber and booked about 800 beds at area hotels, the ANSA news agency reported.

Further north, the Tiber flooded in parts of the central Umbria region, ANSA reported, and the Italian Confederation of Farmers estimated tens of million of euros (dollars) of damage to crops, farms and stables. Austria's national weather service, the Central Institute for Meteorology, raised the avalanche risk level for much of the country's Alps to three on a five-point scale.

Officials said the risk was most acute in the southwestern province of Carinthia, where about 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) of snow fell over the past 24 hours. Conditions also were ripe for avalanches in the southern province of Styria and the alpine province of Tyrol, they said.

Authorities urged skiers and snowboarders not to stray off marked trails and to wear electronic transmitters designed to help rescuers quickly locate victims buried beneath snow and ice. Authorities in Belgium were struggling to respond to electricity blackouts and black ice on the roads that killed one person and injured two Saturday.

A homeless man froze to death in central Brussels as the first winter snow took the country by surprise, media reported Sunday. The 43-year old man was found dead Friday evening in a church doorway next to two friends who were hospitalized for hypothermia, AP reported.

Meanwhile, a Turkish ship whose engine broke in rough waters near the small island of Procida in front of Naples, was towed to safety early Sunday, Italian media reported.


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