‘How was it possible?’ Austrians left asking painful questions after Vienna terror shootings

As Austria deals with the aftermath of a terror attack on the eve of its lockdown, Stefan Haderer spoke to witnesses in Vienna, and examined what the impact will be on a country that has largely been spared the kind of attacks that have taken place elsewhere.

'How was it possible?' Austrians left asking painful questions after Vienna terror shootings
Flower and candles for the victims of the shooting lay at Schweden square (Schwedenplatz) in Vienna. Photo: AFP

On Tuesday Austria woke up to a new coronavirus shutdown after an eve of terror where at least four people were gunned down in Vienna’s historic city centre. Seven people are still in a critical condition.

What effect does the attack have on the nation situated in the heart of Europe?

The gunman was ‘firing at people like hell’

To many Austrians it was only a question of time over when Islamist terror would hit the country. The attack was orchestrated and it seems very likely that the killer or killers waited for the right moment to strike the nerve of the nation.

This moment was the last evening before the second shutdown, when all restaurants and bars were preparing to shut down for at least a month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The first district, where the attack occurred at around 8pm yesterday, felt like a ghost town on Tuesday morning. People had been warned to remain vigilant and stay home – and those who can were glad to do so. Parents, who are deeply worried for their children, have also been allowed to keep them home from school.

I talked to the few people who were out in the streets near the “Bermuda Triangle”, a vibrant nightlife area close to the Jewish temple and the Danube Canal, where the shootings took place.

“I saw a guy in white clothes running around, firing at people like hell,” a young person who said he witnessed the scene from his window said.

READ ALSO: Austria police arrest 14 after Vienna rampage

Soon after the shots, which began near Schwedenplatz, disturbing footage was shared on social media channels. The police urgently asking witnesses to send their material to the Interior Ministry rather than sharing it online. 

A law graduate working in a nearby office sent a warning message to his friend, he told me.

“Anybody outside should hide somewhere,” he had told his friend. “There were injured people lying outside our window. At least 30-40 gunshots.”

Many passers-by found refuge in some of the almost empty luxury hotels, where those living on the outskirts of the city were allowed to spend the night.

Others had been out enjoying a last performance at the Burgtheater before the lockdown – and ended up being barricaded until the early morning hours, unaware and anxious about what was going on outside, and what would happen next.

A police cordon in place near the shootings. Photo: AFP

Why is Austria victim of global terrorism?

With the identity of the gunned-down perpetrator being confirmed as a supporter of the terror group Isis, emotions are running high among Austrians.

There’s consensus that the attacks struck not only a nation that has been spared similar atrocities so far. But people also see the attacks as a threat to an open, free and peaceful Europe.

READ ALSO: Vienna attack carried out by Isis supporters who fooled authorities

Some wonder why Austria, a neutral nation, has now become a victim of global terrorism. They thought Vienna was not a strategic target even though it’s an international hub. 

Many critics blame failed integration, religious intolerance and misguided asylum policies in the EU.

I’ve talked to people who also mentioned reported incidents that have taken place at churches in Vienna only a couple of days ago.

They see a close connection to recent attacks in France. Sensitive religious spots – churches, synagogues and schools – are exposed to high risk.

A friend living in an area with many Jewish shops and a Jewish school is scared of leaving her house at the moment. Like many others she believes the atrocity was religiously motivated.

In general there seems to be confidence in the police who are doing a good job in the tense situation.

Some Austrians, however, believe that over the past few months the police have cared more about controlling home quarantines and fining people for not wearing face masks rather than doing their ‘real job’, preventing crime and terrorism in the country.

How is it possible, they wonder, that terrorists with criminal records could arm themselves and reach the city centre totally unnoticed? This remains a troubling question indeed amid the uncertainty.

A new dystopian reality

For many Austrians the nation is currently going through its worst-case-scenario.

On the one hand there is increasing fear, insecurity and an aggressive atmosphere because of the coronavirus pandemic, restrictions and shutdown measures.

And the shock and trauma of yesterday’s terrorist attacks, plus the anxiety that before Christmas similar atrocities could take place both in Austria and all over Europe, is still sinking in.

Investigators collect evidence near Schwedenplatz in Vienna on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

It seems evident that in 2020 Austrians find themselves in a new, much more dystopian reality than they did in 2019.

The “War on Terror”, which some politicians proclaim, affects a nation thought to be safe and secure. It must be said that Austria is still among the countries with the lowest crime rate and highest life quality.

These attacks seem likely to strengthen conservative and right-wing parties, who have been criticising poor integration, especially in Vienna, as well as in neighbouring Germany.

Eventually the gap in the Austrian society will widen, which could as well pose a threat to the government coalition as well as social stability and solidarity in the country.

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Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.