Evacuation orders are in place in central Greece as a river bursts its banks and floodwaters rise


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Floodwaters were rising around one of Greece’s largest cities on Friday after a river burst its banks, while fire department and military helicopters were plucking people from villages inundated by tons of water and mud that have left at least six people dead, six missing and many people clinging to the roofs of their homes.

Flooding triggered by rainstorms also hit neighboring Bulgaria and Turkey, killing a total of 18 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 that some areas received twice the average annual rainfall for Athens in the space of just 12 hours.

Although the rainstorms eased, evacuation orders were issued for four areas near the city of Larissa on Friday, with authorities sending alerts to cell phones in the area warning that the Pineios River had burst its banks. Parts of Larissa, which is among the top five biggest cities in Greece with a population of around 150,000, were 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 neighborhood were rising “minute by minute.”

Hundreds of people were believed to be trapped in villages unreachable by vehicle as roads were washed away or severed by rockfalls, 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 wasn’t 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.

Elsewhere, residents of villages left without electricity or drinking water dialed in to Greek television and radio stations, appealing for help and saying people were still trapped on rooftops without food or water.

Between Tuesday and early Friday, the fire department said that more than 1,800 people had been rescued and the department had received more than 6,000 calls for help in pumping water from flooded homes and removing fallen trees.

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

Authorities have deployed swift water rescue specialists and divers as floodwaters rose above two meters (six feet) 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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