A night of heavy rain worsened severe flooding in central Greece, leaving some villages almost entirely under water on Thursday and prompting the government to deploy armed forces to help rescue people in the worst-hit areas.
At least four people have died in Greece due to extreme weather this week, according to the country’s fire department. And the toll could increase due to reports of missing residents.
Fire engines were unable to reach most of the hardest hit spots due to the depth of the water, reaching six feet in some areas, according to government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis. He said fire department divers were using dinghies to try to reach stranded residents, but it was difficult for planes to get to some areas due to lightning. The Coast Guard was sending divers to help with the rescue efforts.
In neighboring Turkey, at least nine people have been killed in floods that have affected several regions of the country since Sunday, including Istanbul, the most populous city.
Global warming has caused more intense wildfires and flooding in Greece in recent years and last month’s blazes in northern Greece were the largest on record in Europe, according to European Union officials. Meteorologists were stunned by the level of rainfall that hit central Greece this week, calling it the heaviest in decades.
Greek military forces have helped rescue stranded citizens and repair extensive road damage to restore transport, armed forces chief Konstantinos Floros told a press conference on Thursday.
“All of our forces are on standby and operating in the affected areas,” he said, adding that 11 vehicles and 30 rubber dinghies were in operation and more would be mobilized while seven helicopters were on standby. Special military units have been dispatched to areas where bridges have collapsed to help rebuild them, he said.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has ordered the creation of an operations center to coordinate rescue to stranded residents, distribute food and water, and attempt to restore electricity and running water. He was briefed on Thursday on the extent of damage to homes and infrastructure by civil protection and emergency services officials and plans to visit the affected area this weekend, the government spokesman said. .
As the storm over central Greece subsided on Thursday afternoon, Greek television showed a helicopter rescuing residents from homes almost completely submerged in muddy waters.
In the port city of Volos in central Greece, home to around 125,000 people and one of the hardest hit places, hundreds of homes were left without electricity or running water for a second day on Thursday. Local authorities sent agricultural vehicles to clear snow from flooded streets and distribute bottled water to residents.
Volos Mayor Achilleas Beos said the military would step up efforts in the coming hours to help distribute food.
Images posted to Facebook from the village of Palamas in central Greece showed houses almost completely submerged in muddy water and people on the roofs of their houses talking on mobile phones. The local mayor, Giorgos Sakellariou, speaking to Greek media, described the situation in the village as tragic.
“Dozens of people are stuck in Palamas,” he said. “People are going to drown. I called everywhere,” he added, adding that since Wednesday he had been asking the authorities for a helicopter to help rescue residents.
A Palamas resident, Hara Petropoulou, told a Greek TV channel that local authorities had announced they would send boats to rescue residents, but none had appeared.
“It’s not raining now, but the storms are building up,” Ms Petropoulou said. “If it rains, we’ll all drown.”
When a resident of Vlochos, another flooded village in the same area as Palamas, called a Greek TV station asking for help, Greek firefighter spokesman Yiannis Artopios, interviewed at the same time, asked residents to be patient for a few more hours as the extreme weather conditions are expected to ease Thursday afternoon. Greek firefighters have received nearly 5,000 calls for help across the country since Tuesday morning, he said.
Kostas Tsioukas, from the village of Metamorfosi, also in central Greece, told a Greek TV channel that residents were waiting for help.
“There are old people here, children, people with disabilities,” he said. “There are people who are missing.”
Greek Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said a search was underway to find six missing people in the village of Agia Triada in central Greece. He said five villages, including Palamas and Agia Triada, had been cut off by the floods. But as the extreme weather is expected to ease in the coming hours, relief efforts will be stepped up, he told a press briefing.
The online portal of the Greek meteorological service, Meteo, posted a photo showing houses of Metamorfosi submerged to their roofs. another article showed a house which collapsed in flood waters in the village of Mouzaki, not far from Palamas.
Rescuers in Turkey were searching for the fourth day in a row for a three-month-old baby who had wandered away from his mother in central Turkey when heavy rain fell on Sunday, the Demiroren news agency reported.
Turkish authorities warned on Thursday that a new wave of heavy rain is expected to hit the north and west of the country.
Safak Timur contributed reporting from Istanbul, Turkey.