At least 21 dead as severe storm hits Macedonian capital

At least 21 dead as severe storm hits Macedonian capital
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje August 7, 2016

At least 21 people died in heavy floods that hit the Macedonian capital Skopje and nearby villages late on August 6, while dozens have been injured, according to police.

Skopje mayor Koce Trajanovski has described this as the worst flooding ever in the city, according to AP. Skopje last was hit by severe flooding in 1962, one year before a disastrous earthquake that almost leveled the city.

The storm with strong winds, torrential rain and thunder started at 18.30 local time on August 6 while the rain lasted until the morning. The rain caused severe flooding, with water levels in some affected areas reaching 1.5 metres.

So far 20 of the victims have been identified. They were found in and around the villages of Singelic, Stajkovci, Smilkovci and Cresevo, the police said in a statement on August 7. Aracinovo village was also badly affected.

22 people were reported to have been injured by 06.00 local time on August 7, and were treated in Skopje hospitals. An additional 56 came to hospitals with various kinds of injuries in the following four hours, of whom nine were hospitalised, according to the police.

“It was like a water bomb. Many people were caught by the storm in their fields, on roads. Over 20 are dead, and we hope there will be no other victims,” Trajanovski was quoted by MIA.

The storm caused huge damages to households in the affected villages, but flooded homes, and damage to cars and agricultural machinery were also reported in other parts of the capital.

The supply of electricity was interrupted in some areas and there were fallen trees and branches on the streets, according to the official website of the Skopje municipality.

Police and army units were sent to the most affected areas to help the local population, and are also searching for more victims. The crisis committee has decided to immediately begin to assess the damage.

The floods forced residents of the most affected villages to walk for several kilometers to buy bread and obtain clean water, broadcaster Nova TV reported.

Landslides were reported on Skopje ring road and in nearby Gjorce Petrov, where many cars were swept away. According to the police, 70 vehicles were stuck on the road between the villages of Stajkovci and Radisani. Stranded vehicles were also found in several flooded streets elsewhere in Skopje.

Traffic on several streets in Skopje was blocked during the night, but the situation returned to normal on August 7, the police said.

Skopje city council has decided to provide financial support of MKD180,000 (€2,940) to families of victims, according to news agency MIA. The city has also set up a reception centre for people whose houses were damaged.

According to Macedonia's national hydrometeorological service, 92.3 litres of rain per square metre fell in Skopje from August 6 until 08.00 local time on August 7.

The EU enlargement commission Johannes Hahn expressed condolences in a tweet to families of the victims in the Macedonian floods and said that “EU stands ready to help”.

The authorities are expected to declare August 8 a day of morning.

In May 2014, the worst floods on record hit two other Western Balkan countries - Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia - killing dozens of people. The damage resulting from the floods also caused a substantial setback for both countries' economies.