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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Flooding in Greece and neighboring nations leaves 14 dead, but 800 rescued from the torrents

Athens, Greece— More than 800 people have been rescued over the past two days from floods in Greece, the fire department said Thursday, after severe rainstorms turned streets into raging torrents, hurling cars into the sea and washing away roads. The rainstorms have also hit neighboring Bulgaria and Turkey, leaving 14 people dead in the three countries, including three people in Greece.

Fire department spokesperson Vasilis Vathrakogiannis said swift water rescue specialists and divers from the department’s disaster response units, as well as the army, were participating in rescue efforts and were trying to reach remote areas despite roads having been washed away.

The flooding follows on the heels of 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 towns 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.

In some areas, floodwaters were higher than 6 feet, Vathrakogiannis said. 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 floodwaters. Frequent lightning meant helicopters were unable to fly, he added.

More than 2 years’ rain in 12 hours

Government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis said some areas received more than twice the average annual rainfall of Athens in the space of 12 hours.

Defense Minister Nikos Dendias cut short a trip to Dubai and was returning to Greece “to oversee the greatest contribution of the Armed Forces in dealing with the consequences of the severe weather,” he announced on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

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 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 center into a river of mud that swept people off their feet.

Flooding deaths in 3 countries

The record rainfall was blamed for at least three deaths near the central city of Volos and in Karditsa, further to the west, according to the Greek fire service. Three people were reported missing.

A flash flood at a campsite in northwest Turkey, meanwhile, near the border with Bulgaria, killed at least five people and carried away bungalow homes. Another two people died in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, where Tuesday’s storms inundated hundreds of homes and workplaces in several neighborhoods.

In Bulgaria, a storm caused floods on the country’s southern Black Sea coast. The bodies of two missing people were recovered from the sea on Wednesday, raising the overall death toll there to four.

Severe weather and climate change

Extreme weather events — both record high temperatures and punishing rainfall — have battered much of Europe and the wider world this year, with climatologists pointing to human-caused global warming as a major culprit. Even as the drenching storms started pummelling Greece, fire crews in other parts of the country were still working to extinguish the unprecedented, deadly wildfires.

Warmer oceans fuel more powerful, less predictable storms, and the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization released new data Wednesday showing the past three months have been the hottest ever recorded globally.

In March, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on wealthy countries to move up their goals of achieving carbon neutrality as close as possible to 2040 (most nations are currently targeting 2050), in an urgent bid to “defuse the climate time bomb.”

“Humanity is on thin ice, and that ice is melting fast,” the U.N. chief said in a video message as a panel of experts issued areportthat he likened to “a survival guide for humanity.”

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