Skiers in cable car drama as storms wreak havoc in Italy

ROME (AFP) - Around 200 holiday skiers in the Italian Dolomites were winched to safety on Thursday after getting stranded in cable car cabins buffeted by 130kmh winds.

The Ciampinoi cable car in the popular Val Gardena resort ground to a halt after a huge tree was blown over onto the cable, local officials said.

Amid fears the cable could snap at any moment, mountain rescue experts and firefighters were lowered on to the cabins from helicopters.

They then quickly evacuated the terrified skiers from around 20 different cabins using ropes and succeeded in getting everyone off without any serious injuries.

The drama came as stormy weather caused havoc across much of northern Italy, claiming at least two lives and causing the partial collapse of a much-admired 17th-century church belltower at Cortona in Tuscany.

A woman was crushed by a falling tree in Urbino in the Emilia Romagna region while a man died behind the wheel of his car when it was hit by a rockfall near Lucca in Tuscany.

Winds of up to 180kmh tore through the Riviera region of Liguria. In the port city of Genoa local authorities closed public spaces, including cemeteries, and banned motorbikes and scooters from circulating in some areas of the city.

In Tuscany, numerous schools shut their doors as gusts of up to 150kmh were recorded, while on the island of Sardinia several ports were cut off after winds caused waves 7m high.