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Extreme weather

‘What we are seeing is unprecedented’: flash floods cause ‘biblical damage’ in Athens, leave 14 people dead

Mandra, a small town on the western outskirts of Athens, was hardest hit by the deluge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 10:54pm

Flash floods on the outskirts of Athens have killed at least 14 people, injured dozens more and caused “biblical damage” as roads were turned into torrents of mud and debris.

“Cars are stuck in mud in hills where it is raining hard, homes have been flooded and people are missing,” said Nikos Toskas, the minister for public order and citizen protection. “The death toll may rise. The bad weather is forecast to continue until the weekend.”

Toskas, who toured several of the affected areas on Wednesday, described scenes of catastrophe. A section of the highway between Athens and Corinth had caved in, businesses had been inundated and power lines had gone down as the floods hit.

“They’ve affected a very large region in some of the poorest parts of Athens,” Toskas said.

Cars are stuck in mud in hills where it is raining hard, homes have been flooded and people are missing
Nikos Toskas, minister for public order

The flooding followed heavy rain overnight. As roads turned into rivers of mud, cars were carried away and tossed into piles, and walls from gardens and small buildings collapsed. Deluged with debris and rubble, some streets became impassable.

Twelve of the people killed – four women and eight men – were found in or near Mandra, a small town on the western outskirts of Athens that was hardest hit by the flood. The bodies of two more men were recovered from the sea. It was thought likely both had been swept into the bay at Eleusina, 11 miles from Athens’ city centre.

The state-run TV channel ERT reported that all the victims were between 45 and 70 years old. Among the dead were a hunter and a truck driver found in the cabin of his vehicle.

Authorities said at least 10 people had been taken to hospital with hyperthermia, and call centres were overwhelmed with appeals for help. Many of the calls were from people trapped in cars, trucks and buses. Firefighters registered around 340 calls for help to pump water from flooded buildings.

“What we are seeing is unprecedented,” said Ioannis Vasilliou, vice-prefect of western Attica. “Huge amounts of water are raging through [the streets of] Mandra … we have to stop the gush [of water].”

Speculation was rife on Wednesday that illegal construction over streams and riverbeds had contributed to the ferocity of the torrents.

Schools in the suburbs of Mandra, Nea Peramos and Megara were closed as authorities called a state of emergency and the fire service appealed to the public to avoid travelling to the area unless necessary.

“Everything is lost. The disaster is biblical,” the mayor of Mandra Yianna Krikouki told state-run TV.

Further storms are predicted to hit parts of the Greek capital and western Greece in the coming days.

The prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.