THESSALONIKI • Storms killed six tourists and injured dozens of people in northern Greece, the authorities said yesterday.
Strong winds and hail on Wednesday evening tore into the beach front of Halkidiki region, one of Greece's most popular tourist areas, terrifying thousands of holidaymakers caught in the open.
"For five minutes, it was hellish," said Mr Haris Lazaridis, the owner of a tavern where a 54-year-old woman from Romania and her son were killed when the roof caved in.
"There was panic, people were howling and running to hide inside," Mr Lazaridis said.
He added that more than 100 people were sheltering under the tavern's roof when it collapsed.
Nearly 30 people have been hospitalised in nearby Thessaloniki, including a 13-year-old girl from Serbia. "It was a miracle that there weren't more deaths," said Mr Kyriakos Athanasiadis, 39, who is vacationing in the area. "Nearly all the coastal restaurants were full, and you could see large objects flying."
One woman reportedly told hospital staff she was picked up by the wind and thrown into a garbage bin, which then rolled away.
The freak storm only lasted about 20 minutes, but it was enough to overturn cars, uproot trees and balcony railings and cause mudslides.
On a beach in Sozopoli, the storm toppled and ripped open a Czech family's caravan, killing a couple in their 70s and injuring their son, 48, and 19-year-old grandson.
Elsewhere in the region, a Russian man and his son were killed by a falling tree.
"It was an unprecedented phenomenon," said Mr Charalambos Steriadis, head of civil protection in northern Greece.
Officials have declared a state of emergency and army crews were working round the clock to restore electricity.
According to port police, a fisherman was also missing.
The storms came after temperatures in Greece soared to 37 deg C over the past two days.
The Greek national observatory said it recorded more than 5,000 lightning bolts around the country on Wednesday evening.