Insurance companies in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia temporarily extended their working hours and timeframes for accepting claims after the severe hailstorm that pounded the city, leaving one person dead, dozens injured and damaging cars and buildings.
The July 8 hailstorm descended on Sofia at about 5pm, bringing volleys of hailstones the size of golf balls, disrupting traffic, tearing down trees and branches, breaking windows and causing flooding of buildings in some parts of the city.
On the morning of July 9, leaves, branches and glass from broken windows were strewn on pavements and streets. Local media said that hundreds of cars had smashed windows and dented metalwork because of the hail.
The 112 emergency number received more than 170 calls at the time of the hailstorm and more than 30 teams, a total of more than 120 employees, had been working all night, fire services chief Vassil Vassilev said on July 9.
Sofia’s Pirogov emergency hospital said that it had treated about 40 patients after the hailstorm, most with head and limb injuries. Injuries included a 27-year-old man who was to undergo surgery because of a severe cut on his arm, while a woman had a broken arm after she tried to protect her head from the hail.
The aftermath of the storm saw varying opinions on the extent to which the violent hailstorm could have – or even had – been predicted.
Climatologist Dr Georgi Rachev told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television that the hail could have been predicted, and indeed had been, by the European Centre for Combating Hazardous Weather Phenomena and Thunderstorms. “But, in any event, it was not possible to say that there would be hail of this kind.”
Bulgaria’s Hail Suppression Agency said that it had informed authorities in Sofia about the hail storm closing in on the city. Nikol Nikolov said that the agency had been sending timely information to the air force.
Nikolov said that such hail storms form very fast.
“Yesterday in Sofia, and more precisely over the town of Dragoman, we reported the formation of a super-cell in about seven to eight minutes. In the same time, it poured down over the capital city with extreme force,” Nikolov said.
Petar Yankov of TV-MET told Nova Televizia that the cloud bringing the storm had been identified 30 minutes before the hailstorm broke. “Basically, the possibility of a reaction depends on the power of the cloud, and this cloud was very powerful.”
Yankov said that the forecast for the day had included heavy rain and hail, especially in northern and western Bulgaria. He added that heavy rain was expected in western Bulgaria on July 11.
Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandukova said that preliminary information would have been welcome so that warning sirens could have been sounded.
But there had been no prior information about the coming hailstorm and the municipality had to react to the moment, she told Nova Televizia.
The television station said that it had become clear that although some services in the country, including the Hail Suppression Agency and air traffic control had been aware of the hail cloud approaching the capital city, no one had warned the metropolitan municipal authorities.
Fandukova said that fire department teams had responded very quickly, reaching the hardest-hit places first and acting swiftly to free people who had been trapped in their cars.
She said that all departments and district mayors had been mobilised to conduct inspections of possible hazards in buildings and overhanging windows, to prevent further incidents.
Regarding the death of a 70-year-old man, who died instantly when a tree in central Borisova Gradina park fell on him, Fandukova said that municipal authorities and police were investigating the matter, but added that the tree had been healthy with no indication that it was dangerous.
“We have no problem with the budget and funds for maintenance of parks and gardens. This is a matter for specialists who have to say that a tree is dangerous and should be cut. We are working constantly, but there is no way to prevent such a storm,” Fandukova said.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)