Tornado hits southern Moravia, leaving death and devastation in its path

Moravská Nová Ves

A tornado, thunderstorms and hailstones as big as tennis balls hit part of southern Moravia on Thursday, claiming at least five lives, seriously injuring scores of people, and razing buildings. Some 550 firefighters, 250 police officers and an army unit have been deployed to villages in the Břeclav and Hodonín disctricts, which bore the brunt of the damage.

Tornados are a rare occurrence in the Czech Republic. The one that formed late on Thursday – which arose during a series of heavy thunderstorms nationwide – reached windspeeds of over 220 kilometres per hour. That would make it the strongest one to hit the country in decades.

Church in Hrušky | Photo: Václav Šálek,  ČTK

The tornado ripped the roofs off buildings, overturned cars and uprooted trees. The village of Hrušky was the hardest hit in the region, which borders Austria and Slovakia. Half the village was razed, the church tower and primary school roof torn off, and only the walls of many family homes left standing.

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was in Brussels for a summit of European Union leaders when the tornado hit. In an address to the Czech nation on Friday morning, he said he was cutting short his participation in the summit to visit the devasted region.

Andrej Babiš | Photo: Aris Oikonomou,  ČTK/AP

“I want to express my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims. I would have flown there last night, but the weather would not permit it. So, I’m flying to Brno at noon and will visit all the affect municipalities, along with cabinet ministers, many of whom are already on the scene…

“As a government, we will do everything to help people. This is an apocalypse, with 2,000 damaged houses, and so we must do our utmost to help our fellow citizens. I want to see for myself, on the spot, what is needed.”

Mr Babiš went on thank the hundreds of Czech firefighters, police, rescue workers and others who responded to the catastrophe. The prime minister said he has asked the EU Solidarity Fund to allocate aid for south Moravia and appealed to insurance companies to take “a more humane approach” to assessing damages, noting hundreds of families now literally without a roof over their heads.

Moravská Nová Ves | Photo: Václav Šálek,  ČTK

The Ministry of Regional Development has announced it will release 420 million crowns to help affected municipalities. At the same time, the state is offering people up to 5 million crowns to repair homes, in the form of grants and 30-year soft loans.

But it is not just buildings that were destroyed in southern Moravia, home to the country’s most celebrated vineyards. The National Association of Wine Producers said virtually nothing remained of the wine grapes in the tornado’s path.

Meanwhile, public collections to help stricken villages have been set up across the country by NGOs and church groups, and individuals have already been donated tens of millions of crowns, as have the charitable arms of businesses.