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Fierce winds raze forests in storm-hit Italy

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Rome (AFP)

Fierce winds and rains that have killed 18 people in Italy this week also razed thousands of hectares of forest in the country's devastated north, officials said Friday.

Trees covering the mountainsides in the Dolomites range were reduced to matchsticks, flattened by winds that tore through the Veneto region Thursday as storms killed five people in northern Italy.

"It's like after an earthquake," Veneto governor Luca Zaia said. "Thousands of hectares of forest were razed to the ground, as if by a giant electric saw."

In addition, 160,000 people in the region were left without electricity, Zaia said, adding that parts of the Dolomites were "reduced to looking like the surface of the moon."

"We've been brought to our knees," the politician said.

On Thursday, storms in northern Italy killed two pensioners aged 74 and 73 when a tree fell on their car in the Aosta Valley. Another person fell into a river in the Brescia region and was dragged under by the current.

In the Alto Adige region, an 81-year old died after falling off the damaged roof of his Alpine cottage, while a 53-year old whose car was hit by a falling tree during bad weather on Monday died from the injuries.

These fatalities brought to 18 the number of people killed by bad weather in Italy since the start of the week.

- Cut off -

The Veneto region was set to remain on red alert for the rest of Friday, as meteorologists predicted the storms would continue throughout Italy this weekend.

Several towns in the province of Belluno were cut off after a landslide damaged a mountain road and repair efforts were hampered by the insistent heavy rains.

Floods in Sicily have closed many roads and mayors have ordered schools, public parks, and underpasses shut.

The picturesque fishing village of Portofino near Genoa, a famed holiday resort on the Italian riviera, was only reachable by sea after the main road collapses and an emergency path opened to let residents out was deemed too dangerous.

"It won't be easy or quick but we count on returning Portofino next summer to the millions of tourists who come to visit it," regional governor Giovanni Toti said.

The Genoa region alone had suffered tens of millions of euros worth of damage -- a price tag that could rise to hundreds of millions in the long term, he added.

Italy's civil protection agency described the weather lashing Italy this week as "one of the most complex meteorological situations of the past 50 to 60 years".

Venice was inundated by near-record flooding on Monday, ferocious storms drove high winds reaching up to 180 kilometres (110 miles) an hour, and hundreds of trees were torn up by their roots in the Italian capital.

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