ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Widespread flooding in central Greece has left at least four people dead and six missing. Heavy rainstorms turned streams into torrents, broke dams, washed away roads and bridges and threw cars into the sea.
Authorities deployed divers and water rescue specialists as residents of some villages sought refuge on the roofs of their homes on Thursday to avoid floodwaters that were more than two meters high.
In Greece, helicopters that had been unable to fly earlier due to frequent lightning strikes began pulling people out of flooded areas and winching them to safety on Thursday afternoon.
At least three villages in central Greece were completely cut off by floodwaters, and residents tuned into radio stations to report collapsed houses and appeal for rescue.
The body of a man who was reported missing on Wednesday was recovered from a stream on Thursday, bringing the country’s flood death toll to four.
Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s climate crisis and civil protection minister, said more than 885 people had been rescued so far and six were reported missing. The military said it had deployed more than 25 boats to rescue people trapped in floodwaters, while seven helicopters and a military transport plane were on standby.
“For the third time, our country is faced with a phenomenon the likes of which we have not experienced in the past,” said Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis, pointing out that in some areas more than double the average annual rainfall Athens fell the period of 12 hours.
“The state’s absolute priority at this time is rescuing … people from areas affected by the storm and protecting critical infrastructure,” Marinakis said.
Fire department spokesman Vasilis Vathrakogiannis said rapid water rescue specialists and divers from the department’s civil protection units and the army were involved in rescue efforts and were trying to reach remote areas even though roads had been washed away.
The flood followed devastating forest fires Large areas of forest and arable land were destroyed, houses burned down and more than 20 people died.
Tracked vehicles and boats were used to evacuate people, but the boats were unable to reach some areas due to the large amount of debris and the strength of the flood flows, authorities said.
Defense Minister Nikos Dendias announced that he would cut short his trip to Dubai to return to Greece so that he could “oversee the armed forces’ greatest contribution to dealing with the consequences of the storm.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis postponed his annual economic speech and a news conference planned for the weekend in the northern city of Thessaloniki to visit flooded areas.
Police have banned traffic in three regions, including the island of Skiathos, and sent numerous emergency telephone calls to people in several parts of the country to not go outside and avoid basement and ground floor areas of buildings.
The storm named “Daniel” was expected to gradually weaken starting Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, the Greek capital was also hit by repeated rains that flooded streets and turned part of a main street in central Athens into a river of mud, sweeping people off the ground.
In Turkey, hundreds of rescuers continued their search for a person reported missing after floods inundated a campsite near the border with Bulgaria and washed away bungalows used by holidaymakers. At least five people died in the campsite disaster and two others drowned in the severe flooding that hit some parts of Istanbul.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.