Record rains flood Greece just as wildfires let up
By Niki Kitsantonis
Torrential rain unleashed major floods in central Greece earlier this week that submerged streets and wreaked widespread damage, just as firefighters were containing enormous wildfires in the country. One man died, and at least one person was missing.
In neighboring Bulgaria and Turkey, at least six more died in the rain-caused flooding, including two swept away at a campsite in northwest Turkey, two in Istanbul and two on Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast, according to The Associated Press. Four more people of a dozen who had been vacationing at the Turkish campsite remained missing Tuesday night.
As Greek television showed semi-submerged cars stuck on flooded streets and vehicles being swept into the sea or onto muddy beaches, police banned traffic in three regions. The ban came a day after warnings by local authorities and Greece’s fire service for people to avoid unnecessary travel during the onset of the wet front, Storm Daniel.
Greece’s fire service said a 51-year-old Albanian national died after a wall collapsed on him; state news media identified him as a cattle breeder who was trying to reach his animals. A 42-year-old Greek man was missing after getting out of his car to try to push his 16-year-old son to safety amid raging floodwaters, a fire service spokesperson, Vassilis Vathrakoyiannis, said by telephone. “The boy was found in the car,” he said. “We’re still looking for the dad.”
The damage came days after major flooding elsewhere in Europe: In Spain, the slow-moving Storm Dana brought exceptional rainfall, leaving a trail of destruction and killing at least five people since Saturday.
On Saturday, two canyon experts drowned in flash flooding in a ravine in the Spanish Pyrenees, according to local news reports, when rain caused the water to increase tenfold in minutes. In Casarrubios del Monte, a village near Toledo that was drenched from Sunday night to Monday, a 20-year-old man died when floodwaters poured into an elevator where he was trapped. Two other victims near Toledo, one of whom was washed away with his car, were located Monday.
Early Monday morning, a 10-year-old was found up a tree he had clung to all night after his family’s car fell into the Alberche River in Aldea del Fresno, a village outside Madrid that was cut off after three of its bridges collapsed and the fourth was closed. The boy had wounds and symptoms of hypothermia, according to local news reports. His mother and sister were found alive, but Spain’s Civil Guard was still searching for his father.
The storm was expected to wane by Tuesday evening, according to Spain’s weather agency, AEMET. Footage on Tuesday in the Spanish news media showed residents pumping water out of windows and sweeping mud and debris out of their front doors.
In Greece, the floods particularly affected the port of Volos, about 320 kilometers, or 200 miles, north of Athens, and the nearby mountain village of Pelion, with Greece’s fire service receiving 400 calls for help in the broader area, Magnesia (although most were not emergencies). Video from Volos showed partly submerged cars in streets and people being ferried through floodwaters by rescuers in plastic boats.
In Pelion, a resident, Iro Proia, posted a live video on Facebook showing a car swept out to sea and appealing for help, saying that locals were trapped.
Earlier Tuesday, the mayor of Volos, Achilleas Beos, waded through knee-deep water in the city as motorists sat in partly submerged cars, shouting at them, “Where are you going? This is insane! Go home! We’ve been telling you since yesterday, there’s a lot of water coming! The rivers are going to break their banks.”
The torrential rain came on the back of major wildfires that have been taxing Greece’s fire service this summer, the worst of which ravaged the northern region of Evros for more than two weeks, leaving 20 people dead and turning huge swaths of forest to ash.
Vathrakoyiannis said authorities had been sending messages warning people to stay home since Monday. He said rescuers had moved 10 people to safety in plastic boats and noted that most of the 400 calls for help from the Magnesia region were not urgent. “Many were from elderly people worried that the floods would spread their way,” he said. “Most were not in danger,” he added.
Inland from Volos, the city of Larisa and the town of Kileler in central Greece were also hammered by the storms, with the fire service called to dozens of flooded homes and stores, as was the island of Skiathos, where video showed streets transformed into muddy rivers Tuesday afternoon.
The extent of the damage was unclear, but local news reports said that at least two rivers had broken their banks. Greek state television posted footage of a bridge in Volos collapsing after the River Krafsidonas broke its banks.
The online portal of Greece’s weather service, meteo.gr, said the Pelion area had received 650 millimeters, or more than 25 inches, of rain between midnight and 3 p.m. Tuesday. It noted, for comparison, that the average annual rainfall in the Greek capital was around 400 millimeters, about 16 inches. “We almost couldn’t believe the forecast,” said Konstantinos Lagouvardos, research director at the National Observatory of Athens. “This is a number we’ve never seen before. It’s unreal,” he said.
The entire Thessaly region, in central Greece, also received “a very large volume of rain,” the weather service said.
Although the rain eased Tuesday afternoon, the fire service and local authorities remained on standby, as the stormy weather is forecast to continue through Thursday in Magnesia. Officials’ greatest concern is that more rivers will overflow, the fire service spokesperson said.
Greece’s civil protection minister, Vassilis Kikilias, appealed to people to follow the authorities’ directions, as the crisis was not over. “After a brief easing, it will flare up again in the morning,” he said, calling on citizens to “be careful and not commute.”