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Published On: Fri, Aug 23rd, 2019

Storm which killed 5, injured 150 was like a ‘terrorist attack,’ says Polish rescue chief

Five people died and over 150 were injured after powerful thunderstorms struck Poland’s Tatra Mountains; it prompted the head of an emergency services team to liken the event to a terrorist attack.

Thursday began with clear skies before a sudden afternoon thunderstorm in the mountain range. Lightning struck a metal cross, surrounded by a metal chain, on the Giewont peak at an altitude of 1,894 meters (6,214 feet), and then hit a group of 25 tourists.

“We heard that after [the] lightning struck, people fell… the current then continued along the chains securing the ascent, striking everyone along the way. It looked bad,” Jan Krzysztof, head of the TOPR Tatra volunteer search and rescue service said.

Four people, including two children, were killed in Poland and a Czech tourist was killed by the same storm in neighboring Slovakia. Some 150 people were treated for burns, fractures, and heart problems, 34 of whom remain in hospital as of Friday afternoon. Three people are missing.

“This is a situation that can be compared to a terrorist attack,” Krzysztof said. “A large group of random people has been hit. Many people, including children. Burnt, with broken legs, wounds all over their bodies.”

Krzysztof added that the unprecedented rescue operation involved five helicopters and “went beyond” any scenario his team has ever encountered. 

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The Tatras are the highest mountains in Poland, and Thursday’s lightning storm was the region’s worst since August 1937 when lightning strikes killed four people on the Giewont peak. 

Rescuers announced Friday that the search operation for two trapped spelunkers, who went missing last weekend, has now changed and they are seeking instead to retrieve bodies after the remains of one person were found in a narrow cave. 

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Storm which killed 5, injured 150 was like a ‘terrorist attack,’ says Polish rescue chief