The death toll from floods in central Greece has risen to four after severe rainstorms turned streets into raging torrents, hurled cars into the sea, and washed away roads and bridges.
Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s minister for the climate crisis and civil protection, said on Thursday that more than 885 people had been rescued so far and six were reported missing.
Flooding triggered by severe rainstorms also hit neighbouring Bulgaria and Turkey, killing a total of 15 people in the three countries.
“Our country finds itself for the third day dealing with a phenomenon the likes of which we have not seen in the past,” Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said on Thursday.
He added that some areas received more than twice the average annual rainfall of Athens in the space of 12 hours.
“The state’s absolute priority at the moment is the rescue … of people from the areas hit by the bad weather and the protection of critical infrastructure,” Marinakis said.
The fire department said the body of a man who was reported missing on Wednesday was found in a stream near a village in the Domokos area of central Greece.
Fire department spokesperson Vasilis Vathrakogiannis said swift water rescue specialists and divers from the department’s disaster response units as well as the army were participating in rescue efforts and trying to reach remote areas despite roads having been washed away.
The flooding followed on the heels of wildfires that burned vast tracts of forest and farmland, burned homes and killed more than 20 people.
The rains began to fall on Monday. Thursday’s flooding was concentrated mainly on the central town of Karditsa, where people were reportedly seeking safety from rising water on the roofs of their homes.
More rain was forecast for later in the day.
Vehicles and boats were being used to help evacuate people, but the boats were unable to reach some areas due to the large volume of debris and the strength of the torrents of floodwaters.
Frequent lightning meant helicopters were unable to fly, Vathrakogiannis said.
“[It is] literally a sea. We need them to help us. We are on the roof of the community office. “We don’t know how to proceed, we have no water and food,” said a resident of Greek television Alpha. Around 300 people are living in the community. But there are also missing people,” he said. But there are also missing people,” he said.
Cars are stuck on a bridge surrounded by floodwaters in the village of Flamouli near Trikala
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis postponed his annual state of the economy speech and a news conference scheduled for the weekend in the northern city of Thessaloniki to visit flooded areas.
“No doubt there is also a question of allowing some tempers to cool,” Al Jazeera’s John Psaropoulos said, reporting from Volos. “A lot of people feel that public services haven’t really been on the ball, … that some preventative measures for the flooding that has happened could and should have been taken.”
“Although speaking to some engineers yesterday, I have to say it’s difficult to imagine what more could have been done,” he added on Thursday.
“Even in areas where flood measures were taken – large bore pipes had been installed to siphon water off mountainsides, underneath roads and so on – even those works were overwhelmed, let alone all the roads where inadequate flood prevention measures have been taken.”
Police have banned traffic from three regions, including on the island of Skiathos, and have sent numerous emergency phone alerts to people in several parts of the country to avoid venturing outdoors and to move away from basements and ground floor areas of buildings.
On Wednesday, repeated rainstorms also hit the Greek capital, flooding streets and turning part of a major avenue in the city centre into a river of mud that swept people off their feet.