Hungary's St Stephen's Day hit by storm: 3 left dead

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Monday, August 21, 2006


On Sunday, between one and one and a half million people had gathered in Budapest for St Stephen's Day fireworks when a severe storm hit.

According to the Budapest Fire Department, a 30-to-40 year-old man and a 12-year-old girl died when a large tree fell on a crowd of spectators on the Buda side, while the cause of an elderly woman's death in Pest remains unclear yet. One man is still missing.

The storm brought winds of at least 100 km/h and large hail. Roof tiles were torn off, trees knocked down, and cars and windows smashed. A stage at the celebration collapsed, causing panic among the audience.

Most of the injuries were caused by falling tiles and debris from roofs. The fire services were called to 250 locations during the night and reports of damage are expected to increase during the day.

"Five minutes into the display a wind starts rolling in, about a minute later, the wind is reaching 70km/h... then the rain comes, but so hard and so large that it slaps your skin like a needle, then hail fell from the sky, people panicking and screaming and running over each other. I lost my sister and her friend, and on my way there were two disabled people in wheelchairs, people just jumping over and pushing them," Armand Versace said.

Meteorologists say they had warned that the storm was approaching. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany has ordered an inquiry into why the event went ahead.

The Budapest City Council security committee held an extraordinary meeting late on Sunday and the civic security directorate decided to set up a special unit to help those in need.