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07 September 2023

Death toll from Greece floods rises as more than 800 rescued

07 September 2023

Firefighters recovered the body of a man from a stream in central Greece on Thursday, taking the country’s death toll from flooding to four after severe storms turned streets into raging torrents, hurled cars into the sea and washed away roads and bridges.

Authorities deployed divers and swift water rescue specialists as residents in some of the worst-hit areas took refuge on the roofs of their homes to escape floodwaters that rose to more than 6ft (2m).

Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s minister for climate crisis and civil protection, said more than 885 people have been rescued so far and six have been reported missing.

Flooding triggered by severe storms also hit neighbouring Bulgaria and Turkey, leaving a total of 15 people dead in the three countries.

Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said: “Our country finds itself, for the third day, dealing with a phenomenon the likes of which we have not seen in the past.”

He noted that some areas have 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,” he 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 spokesman Vasilis Vathrakogiannis said swift water rescue specialists and divers from the department’s disaster response units, as well as the army, are taking part in rescue efforts and trying to reach remote areas despite roads having been washed away.

The floods follows devastating wildfires that destroyed vast tracts of forest and farmland, burned homes and left more than 20 people dead.

The flooding on Thursday was concentrated mainly in the central town of Karditsa, where people were reportedly seeking safety from rising water levels on the roofs of their homes. More rain was forecast for later in the day.

Tracked 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 floodwater.

Frequent lightning meant helicopters were unable to fly, Mr Vathrakogiannis said.

Defence Minister Nikos Dendias said on X, formerly known as Twitter. that he cut short a trip to Dubai to return to Greece so he could “oversee the greatest contribution of the armed forces in dealing with the consequences of the severe weather”.

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 in order to visit the flooded areas.

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 urging them to avoid venturing outdoors and to move away from basement 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.

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