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Violent storm wrecks village, biathlon venue

Instead of tending to preparatory details like finishing the biathlon tracks, local organizers for January's World Biathlon Championships in the hamlet of Osrblie find themselves facing a much graver problem. A storm lasting no longer than ten minutes swept over this little village tucked in the mountains some 15 kilometers south of Brezno in central Slovakia on June 8, tearing off roofs and razing most of the trees in the surrounding forests. "It all looked inconspicuous, when suddenly this enormous black cloud came over the hills really fast," recounted a secretary for the Slovak Biathlon Association. "It got completely dark. In a matter of minutes, pieces of wood and metal were flying around outside. There was so much noise that we had no idea our roof had been torn off.


Storm struck. Hotel Biatlon shows signs of the vicious storm that whipped through Osrblie in central Slovakia and did serious damage to a world class biathlon course.
Ján Krošlák


"We have been piddling around with [the track] for at least ten years, planting the grass, mowing and raking, Now, the park rangers will have to drag all those broken trees down the hill, and of course they will have the tracks as roads for those heavy bulldozers and tractors.''

Benjamín Leitner, SBA chairman


Instead of tending to preparatory details like finishing the biathlon tracks, local organizers for January's World Biathlon Championships in the hamlet of Osrblie find themselves facing a much graver problem.

A storm lasting no longer than ten minutes swept over this little village tucked in the mountains some 15 kilometers south of Brezno in central Slovakia on June 8, tearing off roofs and razing most of the trees in the surrounding forests.

"It all looked inconspicuous, when suddenly this enormous black cloud came over the hills really fast," recounted a secretary for the Slovak Biathlon Association.

"It got completely dark. In a matter of minutes, pieces of wood and metal were flying around outside. There was so much noise that we had no idea our roof had been torn off. When it was over, we looked outside and saw a wasteland.''


Mother Nature turns lumberjack. A violent storm stripped the hills around Osrblie.
Ján Krošlák

Wind gusts clocked from 120 to 150 km per hour shattered windows and downed electrical wires in several villages near Brezno, but Osrblie, which was tabbed by the International Biathlon Association (IBA) in 1992 to host next year's championships, suffered the most.

The sudden storm wiped out approximately 10 square kilometers of trees, totalling about one million cube meters of wood. Forest rangers estimated the damage to cost up to 50 million Sk, and some said that with the current funding, it would take 25 years to clean the area up. According to official reports, Osrblie, a municipality with 425 inhabitants, will need some 21 million Sk to cover the other damage. Since very few people had their houses insured, they are counting on the government's help. On June 16, the government approved 4 million Sk in support for Osrblie.

Hearing about the storm as he came back from vacation, Benjamin Leitner, SBA's chairman, feared for the worst but when he saw the biathlon race area, he said he was almost relieved to see that the storm "miraculously hit only a part" of it. "We actually were lucky," Leitner continued. "It really could have been much worse, if the cabins for broadcasting journalists would have been damaged, we definitely would be finished.''


Local workers deal with Hotel Biatlon's ruined roof top.
Ján Krošlák

While only two of eight kilometers of the tracks are now covered with broken trees, Leitner said, it's . the clean-up work that will inflict further damage to the track. şşWe have been piddling around with it [the track] for at least ten years, planting the grass, mowing and raking,'' he sighed. şşNow, the park rangers will have to drag all those broken trees down the hill, and of course they will have the tracks as roads for those heavy bulldozers and tractors.''

In sum, Leitner said SBA will need 800,000 Sk to fix the area in time for the Biathlon Championship. But he insisted the games will go on. şşThe Championship are not jeopardized,'' he said.

The first biathlon competition - a local championship - took place in Osrblie in 1981. Four years later, several biathlon addicts founded the Biathlon Club Osrblie and were able to convince the Communist officials to dole out money to build the Hotel Biatlon, proper tracks and facilities for the athletes and the press. In 1987, Osrblie already had hosted the European Championship.

After hosting the Biathlon World Cup earlier this year, Osrblie became one of five sites with "A" ranking biathlon stadiums in the world. Only facilities with an A rank can host the World Championship and the Winter Olympics.

A day before the storm happened, Anders Besseberg, IBA chairman and other high-level IBA officials terminated their visit to Osrblie. According to Leitman, "they were very satisfied." No one from the IBA has so far seen the area after the storm.

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