ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Widespread flooding in central Greece has left at least four people dead and six missing, with severe rainstorms turning streams into raging torrents, bursting dams, washing away roads and bridges, and hurling cars into the sea.
Authorities deployed divers and swift water rescue specialists as residents in some villages took refuge on the roofs of their homes on Thursday to escape floodwaters that rose to more than 2 meters (6 feet).
Flooding triggered by severe rainstorms also hit neighboring Bulgaria and Turkey, leaving a total of 15 people dead in the three countries.
In Greece, helicopters, unable to fly earlier due to frequent lightning, began plucking people from flooded areas and winching them to safety on Thursday afternoon.
At least three villages in central Greece were completely cut off by floodwaters, with residents dialing in to radio stations to report homes collapsing and to appeal for rescue.
The body of one man who had been reported missing on Wednesday was recovered from a stream on Thursday, bringing the country’s death toll from the floods to four.
Vassilis Kikilias, Greece’s minister for climate crisis and civil protection, said more than 885 people had been rescued so far and six were reported missing. The military said it had deployed more than 25 boats to rescue people trapped by floodwater, while seven helicopters and a military transport plane were on standby.
“Our country finds itself, for the third day, dealing with a phenomenon the likes of which we have not seen in the past,” Greek government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said, noting that some areas 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,” Marinakis said.
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 trying to reach remote areas despite roads having been washed away.
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.
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, authorities said.
Defense Minister Nikos Dendias announced he was cutting 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.”
Greek 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.
The storm, dubbed Daniel, was forecast to begin easing gradually from Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, repeated rainstorms also hit the Greek capital, flooding streets and turning part of a major avenue in central Athens into a river of mud that swept people off their feet.
In Turkey, hundreds of rescuers pressed ahead with their search for one person who was reported missing after floods gushed through a campsite near the border with Bulgaria, sweeping away bungalows used by vacationers. At least five people have died in the disaster at the campsite, while two others were drowned in severe flooding that hit some Istanbul neighborhoods.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.