21 People Killed in ‘Water Bomb’ Storm in Macedonia’s Capital, Skopje

People fled their flooded homes Sunday in the village of Stajkovci, near Skopje, Macedonia. (Robert Atanasovski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
People fled their flooded homes Sunday in the village of Stajkovci, near Skopje, Macedonia. (Robert Atanasovski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

A freakishly violent rainstorm that Macedonia’s top weather official called a “water bomb” ravaged Skopje during the weekend, collapsing streets, inundating vehicles and drowning trapped motorists and homeowners, most of them caught by surprise.

At least 21 people were killed and 77 injured in what officials described on Sunday as the worst flooding disaster in a half-century to hit Skopje, the Macedonian capital and a city of more than a half-million people in the central part of the Balkan Peninsula.

Officials said the death toll could rise because many people were still missing after the storm, which hit with shocking ferocity on Saturday night.

The police, army units and firefighters rescued more than 1,000 people from the raging water that flooded streets, buildings, houses, clinics and schools. Traffic in much of the city was paralyzed.

The Gazi Baba area, in the eastern part of Skopje, was particularly hard hit, with hundreds of homes losing power.

Underpasses throughout the city became instant lakes, completely submerging vehicles.

The National Hydrometeorological Service said it had issued a warning about an impending storm earlier on Saturday, but the intensity of the storm was a shock.

“The clouds seem to have stopped immediately and dropped the water on this very small part of Skopje, in what can be described only as a water bomb,” Oliver Romevski, the director of the service, said Sunday. “We are all shaken from this phenomenon and from what it has caused.”

Koce Trajanovski, Skopje’s mayor, who announced financial aid for the families of the dead, said many victims had been caught off guard because the rain started so rapidly on Saturday evening.

“Most of the casualties were people returning home from work or travel,” he said.

Mr. Romevski said the storm had dumped nearly four inches of rain on the Gazi Baba area, while other parts of Skopje received far less.

Heavy rain was also reported in the western Macedonia city of Tetovo.

Volunteers established a center in central Skopje on Sunday to accept donations for victims, who needed food, drinking water and hygiene supplies. The government was expected to declare a state of emergency later.

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SOURCE: ALEKSANDAR DIMISHKOVSKI 
The New York Times