People push a car stranded by a heavy snowstorm on a road between Miskolc and Harsany, 155 kms northeast of Budapest, Hungary, Friday March 15 2013. Winter weather returning to Hungary with heavy snowfall, blizzards, ice and cold has left thousands without electricity, blocked access to several localities, forced traffic halts in major services and caused several accidents across the country. (AP Photo/MTI, Janos Vajda)
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A snowstorm in Hungary brought drifts 10 feet (3 meters) high and violent gusts of wind, forcing thousands of people to spend the night in their cars or in emergency shelters after being stranded on a major highway.
Rescue officials said wind gusts up to 100 kph (62 mph) caused trucks to jackknife across the key M1 highway between Budapest and Vienna — the capitals of Hungary and Austria — leading to the traffic jams. On Friday, rescue workers cut across guardrails to let vehicles leave the jammed highway on makeshift side roads.
Over 100 people were injured in traffic and snow-related accidents, the Hungarian Disaster Management Agency said, adding that 5,700 cars were stranded on the roads and 18 trains were stuck between stations.
Snowdrifts up to 3 meters (10 feet) high and the violent gusts of wind brought many major roads across the country to a standstill. The storm also left more than 100,000 people without electricity.
More than 8,000 people had to take refuge in heated buildings set up by the disaster agency for stranded travelers.
Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said police and rescue units were called in, along with military vehicles with caterpillar treads.
The weather prompted the government and several opposition parties to cancel outdoor festivities for Friday's national holiday commemorating Hungary's 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs.
In neighboring Serbia and south across Montenegro, melting snow caused rivers to burst their banks and flood some villages.
In Slovakia, just north of Hungary, some schools in the eastern part of the country were closed because of heavy snowfall, and the Cunovo-Rajka border crossing between the two countries was closed to trucks. Slovakia also banned trucks going from the Czech Republic to Hungary through its territory. Around 20,000 households were without electricity in eastern Slovakia after high winds damaged the grid.
About 300 Slovak soldiers were deployed to help authorities cope.
To the south in Kosovo, authorities said an 8-year old girl drowned when a river burst its banks and swept her downriver. Heavy rains caused flooding that stranded dozens of people and prompted emergency rescues.
Karel Janicek in Prague, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Nebi Qena in Kosovo contributed to this report.