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Boats, helicopters rescue hundreds after storm in Greece

Boats, helicopters rescue hundreds after storm in Greece
A fireman evacuates an elderly woman from a flooded area as the Pinios river over flooded, after torrential rains in the area, in Larissa, Greece on Sept 8, 2023.
PHOTO: Reuters

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LARISSA, Greece - Helicopters winched people from rooftops and military personnel used rubber boats to rescue families from floodwaters up to three metres deep in central Greece on Friday (Sept 8) after a devastating rainstorm killed at least 10 people.

Storm Daniel, which meteorologists said was the worst to hit the country since records began in 1930, pummelled Greece for three days, leaving a trail of ruin after a record summer heatwave that had touched off huge wildfires.

Homes were swept away by torrents, bridges collapsed, roads were made impassable, power lines fell and crops in the fertile Thessaly plain were wiped out.

Civil protection authorities confirmed a death toll of 10, with four people missing. It said 1,700 people had been rescued in total, among them 296 airlifted away from their homes. Residents said the water was three metres deep in places.

Dozens of villages in the region were submerged. People who called in to TV stations said hundreds of people were still stranded. Residents, many of them farmers, were despondent at the work of a lifetime disappearing in hours.

"The damage we have all suffered to our homes is irreparable. A lifetime's worth of work (was lost) within two hours," said Haralampos Tsergas, 59, from the village of Palamas.

Another Palamas resident, Evripidis Manoukas, 46, sitting on a trailer with other locals and their pets after being rescued, said the water level had risen quickly.

"We made an attempt to open the door, more water was coming in, so we closed it again and left through the windows," he said.

As well as the human devastation, the storm will deal an economic blow to the country which emerged from a decade-long debilitating debt crisis in 2018, but Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said it could withstand the disaster.

"Greece's economy is now strong enough to tough out such a catastrophe. I will also mobilise every European resource so that we can get additional help to cover, firstly, necessary compensation for households," he said during a visit to the region.

Farmland destroyed

Speaking to state broadcaster ERT, Thessaly Governor Kostas Agorastos said he estimated the storm had caused around three times the 700 million euros (S$1 billion) of damage inflicted by extensive floods in 2020.

Thessaly accounts for about 15 per cent of the country's annual agricultural output and is a major cotton-producing area.

Torrential rains left more than a metre of silt dumped on once-fertile soils. "The agricultural production isn't destroyed just for this year. The thick coat of silt means it is no longer fertile," Lekkas said.

Extreme weather events have struck across the globe in recent weeks, with floods in Scandinavia, southeast Europe and Hong Kong. In contrast, India had its driest August since records began more than a century ago.

The deluge in Greece - in which, meteorologist George Tsatrafyllias said, one region received more rain in 24 hours than London does in an average year - followed a huge wildfire in the north and the country's hottest summer on record.

Scientists say Greece is on the front line of climate change, with freak weather incidents increasingly common.

"It's just one event after the other," said Christos Zerefos, head at the Athens Academy Research Centre for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology.

Authorities issued evacuation orders for three areas around the central city of Larissa on Friday over concerns of additional flooding from the river Pineios, the third-longest in Greece.

"I've lived through wars, misery, hunger ... Ive never seen such a thing in my life," survivor Stavroulla Brazioti, 104, told ERT in the village of Pineada, also in central Greece.

ALSO READ: 3 dead, 4 missing as rains pound Greece for second day

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