Warning of more severe weather after storm kills seven in Greece

by on 11 July 2019

Two children among dead after series of incidents in Halkidiki region, with dozens injured

Greek meteorologists have warned that more harsh weather could be on the way after seven people died and dozens were injured when a freak storm ripped through beachfronts in a popular tourist region in the north of the country.

Panic-stricken holidaymakers were caught on camera fleeing as the 20–minute late-night storm uprooted trees, overturned cars and caused mudslides in waterfront resorts.

Two tourists from the Czech Republic, two from Russia and a Romanian and her eight-year-old son died in the storm at the northern peninsula of Halkidiki, near Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki. The body of a local fisherman was later found in the sea, the coastguard said.

“There was panic. People were howling and running to hide inside,” said Haris Lazaridis, the owner of a tavern where a 54-year-old woman from Romania and her son were killed when the roof caved in. “For five minutes it was hellish.” He added that more than 100 people had been sheltering under the roof when it collapsed.

Such extreme weather is highly unusual at this time of year. In 1983 a similar storm left nine dead.

Meteorologist Ioanna Nikolaou told public TV that while immediate forecasts in the region were for “rain and storms that will be much less fierce”, the outlook was likely to change. “Sunday is going to be a difficult day for Greece,” she said.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the area had been hit by winds of more than 100km/h (62mph).

Twenty-three people, most of them tourists, were still receiving treatment in nearby hospitals, including a 72-year-old woman in critical condition, he said. The Halkikidi peninsula is particularly popular with Balkan and Russian travellers.

The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who took office on Monday following a general election, cancelled his meetings to address the disaster. “We are making every effort to resolve problems and repair the damage,” he said in a tweet.

Officials have declared a state of emergency and army crews were working around the clock to restore electricity.

“It was a miracle that there weren’t more deaths,” said 39-year-old Kyriakos Athanasiadis, who is vacationing in the area. “Nearly all the coastal restaurants were full, and you could see large objects flying.”

One woman reportedly told hospital staff she was picked up by the wind and thrown into a garbage bin, which then rolled away.

Tourists described how the storm “literally came out of nowhere”. The director of a local medical centre, Athanasios Kaltsas, told Open TV: “It is the first time in my 25-year career that I have lived through something like this. It was so abrupt, so sudden.”

On a beach in Sozopoli, the storm toppled and ripped open a Czech family’s caravan, killing an elderly couple in their seventies and injuring their 48-year-old son and 19-year-old grandson.

“The wind picked up the caravan as if it were a matchbox,” said Yiannis Karabourniotis, owner of a nearby tavern. “You cannot describe it. There used to be 50 pine trees around my establishment. Most were uprooted or snapped in two,” he said.

Elsewhere in the region, a Russian man and his son were killed by a falling tree.

With tens of thousands of tourists in the area, Charalambos Steriadis, head of civil protection in northern Greece, told state-run TV the army had brought in generators until electricity supplies were restored.“It was an unprecedented phenomenon,” he said.

At least 140 rescue workers were involved in the operation, emergency chief Vassilis Varthakoyannis said. The Greek national observatory recorded more than 5,000 lightning bolts around the country on Wednesday evening.

Helena Smith  – theguardian.com