A day later, the footage from Halkidiki, where the storm on Wednesday night took seven lives, look apocalyptic, and these recordings are maybe the best proof of the dreadful events that devastated the region. Snapped trees, ruined cars, torn down rooftops, broken glass everywhere, all kinds of objects scattered along the coast and in the sea. There is no electricity and water, and this probably won’t be fixed until Saturday. This means that there is no Internet, so families and friends of the tourists are not able to reach them and ask if they are all right.
The panic and fear that spread on the Halkidiki peninsula around 10 pm Wednesday, soon spread all over our country as well, as tens of thousands of Macedonian citizens are currently on the first leg of the peninsula. The uncertainty lasted for hours as each minute there were more and more bad news coming from Greece: there were dead and injured people.
Thursday morning, a relieving news from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs arrived: there are no dead or injured Macedonians in the severe storm. The phones in the Consulate in Thessaloniki and the Embassy in Athens were constantly ringing, but everyone who called got the same answer: the authorities checked the hospitals, there were no patients from North Macedonia.
“We have never seen anything like it. Around 10 pm, when people were out on the streets walking or dining at restaurants, it began raining heavily and strong winds started blowing. One minute later, a fierce storm started raging, the winds began to snap trees, flip over vehicles, tear building rooftops down, chairs, bars, glasses, bicycles were flying all around etc. Everyone was trying to take shelter and save themselves”, said a tourist from Skopje, who witnessed the storm in Nea Potidea
The winds were blowing at 110 kilometers per hour
The information indicates that the wind was blowing at a speed of 110 kilometers per hour, and the devastation lasted for fifteen minutes, although the rain stopped after two and a half hours. In fact, very few of the tourists were aware of the drama that was going on at the time, although by seeing the lightning strikes, they could have guessed that it was not a usual summer storm. On the contrary.
“The power went off, we went to bed, the next day we found out that there were dead and injured,” said tourists at Nea Moudania.
Six of the dead tourists are foreign nationals, while the seventh victim is a Greek fisherman. His body was found in the sea between Sozopoli and Nea Kalikratia. The victims included a 54-year-old woman and an eight-year-old boy, both of whom were from Romania, who were fatally wounded after a roof collapsed on a restaurant in Nea Plagia. A Czech couple also died when strong winds blew their caravan away in Sozopoli, while a Russian man and his son were killed by a falling tree in Nea Potidea, Two of the victims are children aged two and eight.
A Moldovan tourist witnessed the tragic death of the father and his son, tourists from Russia visiting Nea Potidea.
“It all happened very quickly. Everyone suddenly began to run, others thought it was some kind of a joke. Such a disaster. I was very upset, we were all trying to save ourselves. When we arrived at our apartment, there was no electricity. We got out on the balcony and after a while we saw the true extent of the catastrophe. A little later, when it stopped raining, I heard someone yelling that there were two people trapped under a tree. We turned to see what was going on. We searched for their bodies for two hours, in the end somebody yelled out ‘I found them’. Emergency response teams and the police arrived, but all they could do is confirm that the two people are dead,” said Moldavian tourist that witnessed the death of a Russian tourist and his two-year-old son.
“I have never experienced such a disaster, not even during the bombing. I thought that I would not survive, I made my peace with it,” told another tourist from Serbia.
Greek authorities reported that 23 people were hospitalized, of which one 72-year-old woman is in critical condition. The new government spokesperson Stelios Petsas, said that embassies of countries whose citizens were killed in the storm were the first ones to be informed.
Given that the weather forecast predicts another storm and strong thunderstorms on the islands in the north and northeast of the Aegean Sea, Halkidiki, Sporades, Evia and the main coastal areas, the government in Athens issued a statement warning citizens of the dangers of landslides and advising them to completely turn off the power in their homes, avoid streams and rivers, to avoid driving vehicles during heavy rains, outdoor work, sheltering under large trees and no walking near beaches.
No cancellations of vacations in Greece
Macedonian tourists who are still on vacation in the Halkidiki peninsula that was caught in a severe storm on Wednesday are being contacted and offered assistance, but so far there are no such reports, nor major cancellations of travel arrangements.
The Atlantis travel agency said they have not received any calls for assistance from tourists so far, and that only one arrangement has been canceled in the morning, but new ones are also being made for the region.
“We keep in touch with the tourists and co-partners in the hotels where they have been removed and for now there are no charges for the problem. This morning there were customers who announced they would not go because they had arrangements at exactly those locations, but that’s their personal choice. We are active, we send messages and offer help,” said Atlantis travel agency.
There are no calls for assistance and help, nor cancellations of travel arrangements, on the Savana Tours hotline.
“We are open for any kind of assistance. We are ready to send emergency transportation for our tourists if necessary,” said Ana Krstevska Kalamadevska, sales director at Savana Tours.
There were no unusual numbers of tourists registered returning from Greece at the Bogorodica border.
“The traffic frequency is common, which means that due to the storm there is no increased frequency for entering the country neither from Macedonian nor from foreign tourists,” said representatives of the Bogorodica border crossing.
Mitsotakis and Pavlopoulos express grief over lost lives
Greece’s President Prokopis Pavlopoulos has expressed his grief and condolences over the loss of life in a violent storm in the country’s northern Halkidiki peninsula on Wednesday night.
“I express my grief over the victims of the disastrous storm in Halkidiki and I extend my sincere condolences as well as my full support to the families and their relatives,” Pavlopoulos said.
He also wished for the speedy recovery of those injured.
Newly-elected Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis cancelled his schedule and was being continually briefed, a government official said. “I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of the victims of the disastrous storm in Halkidiki and to wish a quick recovery to those who are hospitalised,” Mitsotakis said.
Tsipras: This is not the time for political exploitation
Former Greek Prime Minister and Syriza leader, Alexis Tsipras expressed his condolences to the families of the people killed in the Halkidiki storm, stressing that this disaster should not be used for gathering political points and highlighted the impact and consequences of climate change.
“I want to express my sincere condolences to the families of the lives lost in Halkidiki, as well as my wholehearted support for the injured. This is not the time for political exploitation. At least I will never do that. These are moments for reflection. As much as we want to excuse or ignore it, climate change and its consequences are present and closing our eyes before it does not help. This terrible development threatens the planet, threatens our lives. The sooner we realize it, the better we will protect ourselves. But let’s take into account that we need radical changes, not halfway measures”, wrote Tsipras on Twitter.