Deadly squalls overtake Lithuania

  • 2010-08-18
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

PRESIDENTIAL PSYCHOTHERAPY: President Dalia Grybauskaite tries to comfort a village woman whose house was devastated by the storm.

VILNIUS - On the night from Aug. 7 to Aug. 8, incredible squalls with wind speeds up to 26 kilometers per second devastated parts of Lithuania, killing four people. The squalls uprooted trees, mostly in Kaunas city and the regions of Alytus, Varena and Trakai, causing damage to vehicles, houses and power lines. Three of the killed were spending their night in tourists’ tents near lakes and rivers (two of the killed were sleeping during the squall) while the fourth victim was a dairymaid in the Siauliai region – the wind lifted a 1.5 ton piece of equipment for milking cows and threw it on her.

The damage was counted on Aug. 12 by the government at 21 million litas (6 million euros) but it is not the final figure yet, because damage to electric power lines and private housing was not included into that counting. The damage to Kaunas city is 1.2 million litas. Unemployed people have been sent to clean devastated areas from fallen trees – their work is financed from the European Social Fund.
“Uprooted trees can be used as timber, while broken trees will be suitable only as firewood,” Agriculture Minister Kazys Starkevicius said.

On Aug. 10, President Dalia Grybauskaite and Finance Minister Ingrida Simonyte, who is the acting prime minister (while Andrius Kubilius enjoy his vacation canoeing in rivers of Lithuania despite the natural disaster unheard of in some 100 years), have visited some of the worst affected areas to talk with depressed residents in southern Lithuania and Kaunas. In the village of Sarapiniskes, Varena region, Grybauskaite talked to the locals – only two houses out of 60 in that village were not damaged. The rest of the houses mostly lost their roofs. 

The locals were crying that the insurance company Lietuvos Draudimas, which is probably the most popular among locals, is not answering their calls. The total sum, which all insurance companies will need to pay, is some 3-5 million litas. The insurance companies’ agents are not physically capable of visiting all of their clients in a short period of time now, but Grybauskaite criticized them anyway, naming Lietuvos Draudimas by name, to comfort the locals. Simonyte stated that the state reserve fund, now holding five million litas, will spend to cover the expenses of local municipalities, helping those who did not insure their homes before the squall.

On Aug. 12, Interior Minister Raimundas Palaitis held a press conference stating that after about half a year, a nation-wide alarm system via mobile phones warning about the coming natural disasters will be introduced. The system will cost 15 million litas, taken mostly from EU funds.
“It is not SMS. It would be a powerful message which would wake up in the particular region even sleeping people, like those who slept in tents during the recent squall. We could already have such a system introduced but the company, which came second in the competition, appealed to a court because of the competition result,” Palaitis said.

The squalls are not a rare event during the recent heat waves. On July 25, a group of Czech scouts traveling via Lithuania on bicycles were hiding from the squall in an abandoned building in the village of Pakapiai, Kaunas region. The building collapsed and 11 scouts received injuries, and on Aug. 8, a 19-year old scout died on his birthday in the Kaunas Medicine University Clinics.