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Budapest storm: 5 dead, 500 injured

As many as five people died so far and more than 500 were injured when a storm hit Budapest during a fireworks show last night to mark a national holiday. Two were killed by a falling tree, said Pál Győrfi, a spokesman for the ambulance service. Fifteen people were in a serious condition and four had life-threatening injuries, Health Minister Lajos Molnár said at a press conference in Budapest yesterday. The storm, with winds of 120 kilometers an hour (75 miles), touched down minutes after as many as 1.5 million people gathered along the Danube River to watch the 9 p.m. firework display for the St. Stephen's Day holiday. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky called for an inquiry into whether organizers should have canceled the event earlier in the day. „I don't really remember what happened,” said László Somlói, 41, in his bed at Sándor Péterffy Hospital in Budapest after a tree landed on him. „If I had known what kind of weather was on the way, I would never have gone out.” An elderly woman died in unknown circumstances, while a fourth person was found after being falling into the Danube. One more person is still missing after boats on the Danube collided during the storm and five people fell into the water, said Tibor Dobson, a spokesman for the disaster authority.


On the official website (www.metnet.hu/download/radar/hun/) of the meteorology institute, we all can follow the radar pictures of the storm. Watching the pictures, it is hard to understand which part of them was not understandable, or how could these pictures mean else but a heavy storm. One thing was for sure, this storm was coming with a very great strength, and the alarm did not arrive to the right decision-makers in time. For those experts who have seen some storms coming from the Balaton direction, it should not have been a question whether it was hitting the city or not. Some forecasts have promissed heavy storm, and a significant change in the weather conditions a day ahead, some were saying the storm would hit the capitol around 9 p.m. But who believes the weatherman anyway?


More than 200 firefighters were called to help handle damage from the storm last night, Dobson said. The ambulance service took more than 100 people to hospitals, said Győrfi. Most of the injuries were caused by people being hit by falling trees, branches, broken windows and debris, he said. About 134 people arrived at the Sándor Péterffy hospital overnight, and 24 had to stay for treatment. Ambulance and firefighters made a great job in helping people after the storm. Some office buildings and hotels opened their door for people running from the streets.


Damage to Budapest's public transport infrastructure is estimated at several tens of millions of forint, public transport company BKV Zrt said yesterday. Trolley bus lines were still down in the city of 2 million and routes closed. The storm caused as much as Ft 500 million ($2.3 million) of damage to homes insured by Aegon Magyarorszag Zrt in Budapest and adjacent Pest County, the company estimated in a statement. Aegon has a 40% share of Hungary's home insurance market.


Questions remain over whether the organizer of the fireworks, Hungarian event management company Nexus Reklámügynökség Kft, prepared the show in line with regulations, György Szilvásy, head of the Prime Minister's Office, said in a press conference yesterday. Nexus continued the show after it received an alert from the Hungarian police about the storm during the fireworks, Szilvasy said. The weather service also sent a „red alert” to the disaster authority at 7:39 p.m., which the authority read only four hours later, Szilvasy said.”It was not the fireworks that caused the problems but the weather,” Szilvasy said. „The investigation should reveal whether the alert was sent in time and why the disaster authority didn't do more.” The government's investigation is expected to be completed tomorrow, Szilvásy said.


St. Stephen's Day is marked by a parade through Budapest streets where the preserved right hand of the patron saint of Hungary is on display. The country, founded in 1000, resumed celebrating the national holiday in 1990. (BBJ, Bloomberg)