Rescue workers piled sandbags to hold back surging floodwaters and evacuated hundreds of people from alpine valleys Tuesday as heavy rains and landslides battered central and southern Europe.

At least 26 people have died in storm- or flood-related accidents in the past week; most drowned, were crushed by debris or collapsed buildings or struck by lightning. Two Swiss firefighters were killed Monday in a landslide.

Worst hit was Romania, with 18 dead, some 20,000 homes inundated and more than 1,000 small bridges damaged.

Five people were reported dead Tuesday in Austria, Bulgaria and Switzerland. Thundering torrents of water surged along riverbanks in many regions, causing millions of dollars in damage.

Austrian firefighters, soldiers and rescue workers fanned out to help hundreds to safety in the hard-hit Landeck (search) region. The Kleinwalsertal (search) Valley, which borders the German state of Bavaria, was completely cut off, with flooding of major access roads.

In a dramatic rescue in the southern province of Carinthia (search), firefighters saved a 72-year-old woman whose car was perched for two hours at a 45-degree angle into surging waters.

As water gushed around the windshield, a firefighter lowered by a helicopter shattered the rear window and attached cables to the frame. The car was dragged from the water with the driver inside. She suffered shock, police said.

Brown waters rushed just under a bridge spanning the Inn River, which was nearly overflowing its banks. Firefighters and volunteers heaved sandbags in a desperate attempt to hold back the river in Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol (search) province.

Rising waters caused a gas explosion in the town of Reuthe, Austria Press Agency reported. At least three people were treated for burns at area hospitals. Storms caused power and telephone cuts and interruptions in train service.

In Bavaria (search), German soldiers evacuated residents as river embankments collapsed, sending flood waters surging through several Alpine resort and farming towns. Police had to evacuate about 54 people by helicopter from their homes in the town of Eschenlohe.

"All hell broke loose," said Albrecht Ott, spokesman for regional authorities.

Rescue crews helped build makeshift barriers and personnel from police and fire departments around Bavaria were called in to help, the state Interior Ministry said.

Several regions of Switzerland reported the heaviest rainfall on record, and five people there have died in the past two days.

A new wave of rain hit northwestern Bulgaria, flooding dozens of communities and killing one man, Bulgaria's Civil Defense agency said Tuesday. Border areas between Croatia and Slovenia were flooded, and emergency officials were on alert.