Original Author: Niki Kitsantonis
A night of heavy rainfall compounded major flooding in central Greece, leaving some villages almost completely under water on Thursday and prompting the government to deploy armed forces to help rescue residents from the worst-hit areas.
At least four people have died in Greece as a result of the extreme weather conditions this week, according to the country’s fire service. And the toll could rise amid reports of missing residents.
Fire service vehicles were unable to reach many of the worst-hit spots because the water was so deep, reaching six feet in some parts, according to the government spokesman, Pavlos Marinakis. He said divers from the fire service were using dinghies to try to reach trapped residents but it was difficult for aircraft to access some of the areas because of lightning. The coast guard was sending divers to help in the rescue efforts.
In neighboring Turkey, at least nine people have been killed in floods that have hit multiple areas in the country since Sunday, including Istanbul, the most populous city.
Global warming has brought more intense wildfires and flooding to Greece in recent years and last month’s fires in northern Greece were the biggest ever recorded in Europe, according to European Union officials. Meteorologists have been stunned by the level of rainfall that has pounded central Greece this week, calling it the heaviest in decades.
Greek military forces were helping to rescue trapped citizens and repair major damage to roads to restore transport, the head of the armed forces, Konstantinos Floros, said at a news conference on Thursday.
“All our forces are on standby and operating in the affected areas,” he said, adding that 11 vehicles and 30 dinghies were in operation and that 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.
The Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has ordered the creation of an operations center to coordinate the rescues of trapped residents, distribute food and water, and try to restore power and running water. He was being briefed on Thursday on the extent of the damage to homes and infrastructure by civil protection and emergency service officials and was planning to tour the affected region this weekend, the government spokesman said.
As the storm over central Greece eased Thursday afternoon, Greek television showed a helicopter rescuing residents from homes almost entirely submerged in muddy floodwaters.
In the port city of Volos in central Greece, home to about 125,000 people and one of the hardest hit places, hundreds of homes remained without power and running water for a second day on Thursday. The local authorities sent out agricultural vehicles to plow through the submerged streets and to distribute bottled water to residents.
The mayor of Volos, Achilleas Beos, said the army would bolster efforts in the coming hours to help distribute food.
Footage posted on Facebook from the village of Palamas in central Greece showed houses almost fully submerged in muddy water and people on the roofs of their homes speaking on cellphones. The local mayor, Giorgos Sakellariou, speaking to Greek media outlets, called the situation in the village tragic.
“There are dozens of people trapped in Palamas,” he said. “People are going to drown. I’ve been calling everywhere,” he added, saying that he had been asking the authorities for a helicopter to help rescue residents since Wednesday.
A Palamas resident, Hara Petropoulou, told a Greek television channel that local authorities had said they would send boats to rescue residents, but none had appeared.
“It’s not raining now, but storms are gathering,” Ms. Petropoulou said. “If it rains, we’re all going to drown.”
When a resident of Vlochos, another flooded village in the same area as Palamas, called a Greek television station to ask for help, a spokesman for the Greek fire service, Yiannis Artopios, who was being interviewed at the same time, asked for residents to be patient for a few more hours as extreme weather conditions were forecast to ease on Thursday afternoon. Greece’s fire service received nearly 5,000 calls for help nationwide since Tuesday morning, he said.
Kostas Tsioukas, from the village of Metamorfosi, also in central Greece, told a Greek television station that residents were waiting for help.
“There are old people here, children, disabled people,” he said. “There are some people who are missing.”
Greece’s civil protection minister, Vassilis Kikilias, said that a search was underway for six people reported missing in the village of Agia Triada in central Greece. He said that five villages, including Palamas and Agia Triada, had been cut off by the flooding. But with the extreme weather set to ease over the coming hours, rescue efforts will be intensified, he told a news briefing.
The online portal of Greece’s weather service, Meteo, posted a photograph showing houses in Metamorfosi submerged up to their rooftops. Another post showed a house that collapsed into floodwaters in the village of Mouzaki, not far from Palamas.
Rescuers in Turkey were searching for the fourth straight day for a three-month-old baby who drifted away from her mother in central Turkey when a heavy rainfall hit on Sunday, the Demiroren news agency reported.
Turkish officials warned Thursday of another wave of heavy rain expected to hit northern and western parts of the country.
Safak Timur contributed reporting from Istanbul, Turkey.