Gale force winds pound Latvia, Lithuania

  • 2001-11-08
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - A powerful storm with gale force winds surged through Latvia and Lithuania on Nov. 1, causing extensive damage to power lines and closing down ports.

A 21-year-old woman was killed on Satekles Street in Riga when a tree fell on her. The storm caused 200,000 lats ($325,000) in losses to the city of Riga, after snapping electricity wires and tearing off roofs of buildings, including sections of the Latvian government building and St. Peters' Church in the Old Town.

In total, some 540 trees were damaged by powerful gusts in Riga, City Council estimates show.

The storm caused other problems Nov. 1. Latvia's Fire and Rescue Service was called out to fight back the River Daugava, which was on the rise. Rescue service spokeswoman Solveiga Smiltene told The Baltic Times during the storm that the river had already risen by 112 centimeters and that there were no signs of the water level stabilizing.

Eventually the river rose to 1.7 meters above normal. Emergency services were sent to monitor the Daugavgriva dam and give constant updates on its condition. As a result of the flooding a former Soviet army storage facility at Mangalsala, close to the mouth of the Daugava, was under threat. There were several reports of mysterious acid flows as chemicals there reacted with the floodwater.

"We're not quite sure what the chemicals are at this moment," Smiltene said. She could not confirm whether rivers of acid were flowing toward a nearby residential area as had been previously reported.Samples of the chemicals were taken in order to determine more precisely what they were. There is no verdict yet.

This was the strongest storm to strike the Baltic states for 10 years, meteorologists said. Strong winds were reported in all three countries. The strongest winds were reported in the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda, where they reached 32 meters per second, a rare speed for this region.

The strongest winds registered in Latvia so far this year, at 29 meters per second, hit the port of Ventspils. The coastal town of Liepaja saw winds of 21 meters per second, Ainazi had 25, and in the capital winds howled at 23 meters per second.

The strongest storms ever registered in Latvia, with wind speeds of 34 meters per second and occasional squalls at 44 meters per second, were registered in 1963, 1969, 1975 and 1978.

On Nov. 1, around Riga residents could be seen wrestling with their umbrellas. By the time the calm weather returned the broken contraptions littered the sidewalks.