Farkadóna, Greece (AFP/APP): Helicopters and lifeboats have been deployed to reach hundreds of stranded villagers in central Greece, as the death toll from deadly flooding rose to 10, authorities said Friday.
Firefighters worked alongside the army to reach villages cut off by rising water levels, which transformed roads into rivers and left houses submerged in the central Thessaly region.
“We almost died yesterday, we didn’t have drinking water or electricity”, Mina Mprakratsi told AFP from a lifeboat, after being evacuated from her flooded house on Friday.
Fierce storms have battered Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria following a period of extreme heat and devastating wildfires — the kind of extreme weather climate experts say is becoming more frequent because of human-induced climate change.
The 10 dead were all found in the Thessaly area, about 330 kilometres (205 miles) north of Athens, where torrential rains fell from Monday evening to Thursday.
Four people were also reported missing, Greek Civil Protection Minister, Vassilis Kikilias, told a press briefing.
“It is almost certain that other people will be found dead”, said Christodoulos Makris, a farmer who fled to a neighbouring village by tractor on Thursday.
- ‘Living in a nightmare’ –
Greek firefighters said more than 2,500 people had been rescued since Tuesday.
Late on Friday authorities sent out a message to evacuate a district of the city of Larissa threatened by rising waters
Earlier, rescue helicopters arrived in the village of Itea in Thessaly, carrying food and bottled water to stranded residents.
Bridges in the surrounding area have collapsed, the road network is destroyed and animals have drowned after torrents of water swept over vast fields of crops, said AFP journalists at the scene.
“Most of the houses in the village are flooded. We’re living in a nightmare,” said Itea resident Vaios Spyropoulos, who found refuge in a municipal building located on higher ground above his village.
“It’s been raining non-stop for the last three days, so we rescued our elderly neighbours with tractors to help them get out of their houses. It was a panic,” the shopkeeper told AFP.
Water levels in the village of 700 people had reached almost one metre (three feet) on Friday.
In the nearby town of Farkadona, many houses were also underwater, with evacuation efforts underway by boat.
“People should have left the village earlier but they didn’t, they didn’t expect so much water and they became trapped,” said Grigoris Mitrakos, head of the local fire department.
- ‘Extreme phenomenon’ –
Storm Daniel, which has lashed the country for several days, has been called an “extreme phenomenon” by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
A coordination unit has been set up by Mitsotakis, who visited Karditsa on Friday.
Elderly residents evacuated from nearby villages were being flown to the town’s stadium by helicopter.
“Our priority is to save people” Mitsotakis said, emphasising that this was “an unprecedented natural disaster”.
He promised to restore cut-off water supplies in the Volos and Pelion areas on Saturday, and said the Thessaly region “would start work very quickly to reopen the destroyed roads in the coming weeks”.
Flooding hit the port city of Volos, and the towns of Karditsa and Trikala further inland and several villages, after more than a year’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours this week.
Nearly 200 tourists stranded in central Greece have been evacuated by boat in recent days, firefighters said.
The heavy rains and flooding follow devastating fires in Greece this summer that killed at least 26 people.
As the world warms, the atmosphere contains more water vapour which increases the risk of heavy precipitation in some parts of the world, notably in Asia, Western Europe and Latin America.
Combined with other factors such as urbanisation and land-use planning, these more intense rainfall events contribute to flooding.
Severe flooding in neighbouring Turkey and Bulgaria this week left 12 people dead.