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08 September 2023

Helicopters airlift residents to safety from deadly floods in central Greece

08 September 2023

Severe rainstorms have eased but floodwaters are still rising in parts of central Greece as rescue helicopters pluck people from villages inundated by tonnes of water and mud that have left 10 dead, four missing and many people clinging to the roofs of their homes.

Flooding triggered by rainstorms also hit neighbouring Bulgaria and Turkey, killing a total of 22 people in all three countries since the rains began on Tuesday.

In Greece, severe rainstorms that lashed the country turned streams into raging torrents that burst dams, washed away roads and bridges and hurled cars into the sea.

Authorities said some areas received twice the average annual rainfall for Athens in the space of just 12 hours.

Evacuation orders were issued for four areas north of the city of Larissa on Friday morning, with authorities sending alerts to mobile phones in the area warning that the Pineios River had burst its banks.

Parts of Larissa, one of Greece’s largest cities, are already starting to flood.

“The situation is tragic,” Larissa resident Ioanna Gana told Greece’s Open television channel, adding that water levels in her flooded neighbourhood were rising “minute-by-minute”.

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who cancelled his annual state of the economy speech scheduled for the weekend and was visiting the flooded areas on Friday, said he had contacted the European Union to request financial assistance for rebuilding.

“Our first priority over the next few days is to ensure we can evacuate our fellow citizens from areas where they might be in danger,” Mr Mitsotakis said, adding that 15 helicopters were involved in the rescue operations.

Hundreds of people were believed to be trapped in villages unreachable by vehicle as roads were washed away or severed by rock falls, with helicopters and boats evacuating residents.

Rescue crews helped young children, the elderly and people on stretchers from helicopters as they landed in a staging area in the town of Karditsa.

The coast guard said that 270 people had been airlifted to safety on Thursday and Friday, while rescues by air and by boat continued.

The coast guard said the body of a 69-year-old man was recovered from the sea in the coastal town of Volos on Friday, but added that it was not clear whether the flooding was responsible for his death.

Local media reported the man slipped and fell from rocks while trying to get fresh water as the flooding had knocked out the local water supply.

In the Pilion area, residents and tourists were ferried to safety by sea late Thursday as all access roads to some villages were severed.

On Thursday alone, a fleet of 10 helicopters airlifted 110 people from the hard-hit areas of Karditsa and Trikala to safety, while dozens more were being rescued by air and boats on Friday.

Authorities have deployed swift water rescue specialists and divers as floodwaters rose above two metres (6ft) high in some areas, leaving many houses flooded up to their roofs. Residents of some villages have reported buildings collapsing completely.

The flooding followed on the heels of devastating wildfires that destroyed vast tracts of forest and farmland, burned homes and left more than 20 people dead.

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