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Rare and powerful thunderstorms bring strong winds to Europe, killing several

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A massive storm complex traveled almost 1,000 miles across Europe, killing scores of people and wreaking havoc on the French island of Corsica and landmarks in Venice, before continuing to inflict significant wind damage in parts of Austria and Slovakia.

According to the Associated Press, at least five people in France and two in Italy have been killed by the nasty storm complex. Some experts believe the storm complex can be termed a derecho, a particularly damaging, widespread, and long-lasting windstorm. Two children were reportedly killed by the same long-lasting storm complex in Austria.

The storm complex was moving with exceptional speed, increasing its risk of wind. The intense line of storms hit the Corsican capital of Ajaccio on the southwest coast at 8:15 a.m. local time on Thursday, then reached Cap Corse at the northeast tip around 9:15 a.m., according to Weathersky. That’s a forward speed of about 70 mph.

Parts of France and southern England were hit by torrential rain on August 16, flooding tube stations and roads. (Video: The Washington Post)

Preliminary reports of wind gusts in Corsica include: 140 mph (225 km/h) at Marignana, 128 mph (206 km/h) at L’Île-Rousse, 122 mph (197 km/h) at Calvi, and 116 mph (188 km/h) in Bocognano, among others.

Dramatic video from Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte airport in Corsica shows the extreme destruction that 136mph gusts of wind, equivalent to the force of a Category 4 hurricane, can cause. The winds damaged an Airbus A319, a commercial aircraft that seats up to 156 passengers, with one of its wingtips bent by the storm, according to Airlive information.

At least five people were killed in and around the French island during the storm, according to the AP: A 13-year-old girl and a 46-year-old man were killed at two campsites; a 72-year-old woman died when a roof collapsed on her vehicle; and two people died at sea – a kayaker and a 62-year-old fisherman, whose bodies washed up after the storm.

Several others were injured, and at least a dozen people were hospitalized in Corsica, according to the report. The high winds also left 45,000 people without power.

Further down the path of the system, two people were reportedly killed in the Italian province of Tuscany when trees were uprooted from the ground, while several others were injured by falling trees at a campsite. In Venice, raucous winds tossed tables and chairs like toys in popular St. Mark’s Square, and pieces of brick were ripped straight from the bell tower of St. Mark’s, the city’s tallest structure.

In Piombino, Italy, dramatic video from the storm shows a Ferris wheel spinning rapidly in the storm, with the carts of the wheel jostling uncontrollably as the howling winds took control of the wheel’s operations. Walnut-sized hailstones caused extensive damage in Italy’s Liguria region, shattering windows and damaging farmland that had already been scorched by drought, according to the AP.

The storm continued to bring intense lightning and strong winds even after crossing parts of northern Italy. Video from Kranj, Slovenia shows intense winds ripping off the roof of what appears to be a large apartment complex, damaging cars parked below.

In Austria, another amazing video shows high-voltage electric masts bent in half. According to information from Austrian broadcaster ORF, at least 65,000 people in Styria, a province in the heart of Austria, lost power during the storm, which brought wind gusts of at least 139 km/h (86mph).

Elsewhere in Austria, at least two children have been killed in the Carinthia region after strong winds toppled trees near a busy lake.

The storm’s peak winds were apparently on par with some of the highest on record outside the mountains of Europe. Such strong and widespread gusts of wind are rare in summer in the region. The majority of large-scale wind damage events occur from fall through spring, typically originating from powerful mid-latitude storm systems dancing along the jet stream.

Some believe the storm could meet the requirements of a derecho – a widespread, long-lasting windstorm at least 60 miles wide that leaves 400 miles of damage. Even then, a storm complex must have wind gusts of at least 58 mph for most of its length, with multiple gusts of at least 75 mph, according to the US National Weather Service.

About one major derecho forms each year in Europe, or several on a small scale. According to research by scientists at the European Severe Storms Laboratory (ESSL), most of these convective wind storms have a much smaller and less intense footprint than the band that occurred on Thursday. The location and directional movement also seem somewhat unusual.

This is reminiscent of a derecho that hit Germany, including Berlin, in July 2002. This storm complex left eight dead and 50 injured.

The authors of a study on this derecho found that “severe convection can reach a size and intensity comparable to that of the United States”.