Poland seeks EU aid as deadly storm clean-up starts

Over 45,000 hectares of Polish forest were felled by deadly storms earlier this month. [Jarosław Ramucki/ Polish State Forests]

Poland is seeking EU aid to help clean up the aftermath of powerful summer storms that killed six people in mid-August, damaged thousands of homes and destroyed large swathes of forests in the Eastern European country.

More than 200,000 Polish homes and businesses were left without power after storms hit the country on 11 August. The government has been accused of responding slowly to the disaster.

Political opposition said the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) had failed in its relief efforts, citing the example of a small village near Gdansk that had to wait for two days for military assistance just to clear its roads.

Prime Minister Beata Szydło and her ministers have defended their response to the disaster and refuted claims by a local mayor who said he had been told to stop his criticism or face having aid cut to his area.

Szydło announced that families affected by the storms will get financial assistance to help rebuild their homes, after procedures were simplified so that the money can be transferred to bank accounts by the beginning of next month.

Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said on Wednesday (23 August)  that he would actually apply to the EU’s Solidarity Fund for aid in order to help with the clean-up once cost evaluations have been completed.

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At its peak, the storm cut power to more than 500,000 people, causing an estimated €46 million in damage according to daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita, while nearly 45,000 hectares of forest were destroyed by ferocious winds.

The head of the country’s forestry department called it “undoubtedly the worst disaster in the history of Polish – and perhaps even European – forestry” and said it would take two years to clear the felled trees and decades for the habitat to recover.

Warsaw and Brussels are currently at odds over logging in the protected Białowieża Forest, after the EU’s top court ordered an immediate end to tree-harvesting in Europe’s last remaining primaeval woodland. Poland insists its logging is linked to conservation efforts.

Białowieża, in eastern Poland, was unaffected by the storms, which hit mainly the northern and western parts of the country.

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