Strong gusts, heavy snowfall force highway closures in Austria

Gusty winds and heavy snowfall left stretches of Austrian highways impassable Saturday and led to a rash of traffic accidents. Avalanche warnings were in force in the western province of Tyrol and other Alpine regions.

Among the worst affected was the Salzburg region on the border with the German state of Bavaria. There, a sudden onslaught of snow and winds of up to 130 kph (80 mph) surprised dozens of drivers, trapping their vehicles and forcing police to close down sections of the main east-west expressway and the Tauernautobahn, another major motorway.

In upper &to=' target=_blank>Austria province, dozens of Red Cross volunteers fanned out along a 10-kilometer (6-mile) stretch of the Phyranautobahn expressway, providing people trapped in their cars with hot tea and blankets and handing out hundreds of sandwiches. More than a meter (3 feet) of snow fell on some heavily traveled highway sections between midnight Friday and Saturday morning.

Several major two-lane highways in the southern part of the country were closed because of the danger of avalanches, and skiers were advised to stay on marked pistes.

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