Severe flooding has deluged north and northeastern Athens, only days after wildfires took the lives of at least 80 people. Heavy thunderstorms brought far more precipitation than normal in the suburbs of the Greek capital, turning roads into rivers.
Kostas Lagouvardos of the National Observatory of Athens told WikiTribune: “The municipality of Vrilissia saw 100mm of rain in 90 minutes. The areas of Pendeli, Marousi, Melissia and Kifisia had about 60-65mm in the same timeframe. Athens gets about 400mm of rain annually; this is a big divergence from the average. Thankfully, it didn’t rain on the mountains where the burned forests are. However, we expect heavy rain tomorrow as well.”
In a radio interview, the deputy head of Attica, George Karameros, asked residents to not walk around the area of Marousi and advised they do not drive on two of the main roads.
The mayor of Marousi, George Patoulis, explained the sudden flooding. “Since 2007 we have been asking the regional authorities to provide us funding for rainwater management and anti-flooding infrastructure. With a lot of pressure, we have managed to secure a big part of our municipality. The only place where such works haven’t been performed is where we saw severe flooding today, where the creek is narrow. The water quickly flooded over the creek and into nearby parking.”
Round 2. Live. #πυρκαγια #Πλημμύρα https://t.co/L6dSQiW82V
Ξέρω ξέρω ο αέρας φταίει για τις φωτιές και τα θύματα τώρα ο αέρας φταίει που έφερε τα σύννεφα και πλημμυρίσαμε. Από το κακό στο χειρότερο και δεν έχει πάτο το βαρέλι. #Πυρκαγια #Πλημμυρα #fygete #παραιτηθειτε
Only a month ago 15 people lost their lives during floods in Mandra in West Attica, an area which has been hit with three “biblical” floods in the last three years.
The floods came in the wake of the fatal fires which started last Monday, July 23, and spread rapidly. The first blaze is believed to have broken out in a tiny mountainous area of east Attica called Daou Penteli. It quickly spread – fanned by strong winds – towards the coast, where summer residences, resorts, and camps are full of people at the height of summer.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras returned from an official trip to Bosnia and declared three days of national mourning. “It is a difficult night for Greece,” he told reporters. Cyprus and Spain have come to Greece’s aid by providing air support.
The victims were found in the coastal area between Rafina and Nea Makri. The area is a holiday region just east of the capital of Athens, and many Athenians and tourists alike spend summers there.
“The weather was extremely favourable for the fire to spread; the temperature was over 36°C, winds blew were at 6-7 on the Beaufort scale, at 120km/h in some places, and moisture in the atmosphere was very low,” Lagouvardos said.
The Central Union of Greek Municipalities issued a press release blaming the regional administration for the disaster (news site in Greek).
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Στο Μάτι Ανατολικής Αττικής πριν λίγο. Του Γιώργου Τσουκίδη
The fire in Eastern Attica, video courtesy of the National Observatory of Athens.
Houses and other buildings were quickly engulfed in flames, leaving residents little time to escape. Other people tried to escape by heading to the beach, or went into the water. Emergency crews found the bodies of 26 people in a field overlooking the sea.
“Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few metres from the sea or in their homes,” a spokesperson for the fire brigade told Reuters.
Eleana Balabani, a local described the scene. “We rushed to the beach, but even that wasn’t safe. The fire spread almost to the shoreline. We had to stay in the water for six or seven hours.”
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A total of 700 people were found by the coastguard and local fishermen on the beaches. Another 19 were found at sea, in addition to four dead bodies, reported Reuters.
Nina Leopoulou, who was returning from her holidays, told WikiTribune that she was on a ferry to Rafina that spotted members of a group of 10 Danish tourists who were rescued from the sea.
The Danes reportedly (in.gr) saw fire approaching a beach they were on, and decided to escape on a boat. They were found in the sea by the passing ferry at around 10pm on Monday.
“Some of them were really young children. I wonder how their parents protected them in the sea, at night, for so long. From the moment we spotted them, it was at least an hour before we found the rest of them,” said Leopoulou.
Smoke from the fires reached the Greek capital. Maria Nyktari, a resident of north eastern Athens, said: “I woke up in the middle of the night coughing. At first, I thought it was the air-conditioning. It was when I woke up at around 8am, and looked out of the window to see a dark cloud, that I realised what was happening.”
Scenes near the beach at Mati on the evening of July 24. Video by Eleana Balabani. Credit: WikiTribune. License: CC 0
Meanwhile, in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, about 500km north of Athens, the fire brigade had to cope with severe hail and rain.
Βίντεο από τη Σαλαμίνα μας έστειλε η Ρούλα Κολιοπούλου.
Βίντεο από την Εθνική Οδό στο ύψος της Κινέτας, του Γιάννη Λαμπρόπουλου. Αποφύγετε να κινηθείτε προς την περιοχή.
Politicians and citizens alike have pointed out the lack of state preparation for such disasters, and the dangers brought by unregulated urban development. An online petition demanding that the Greek Parliament doesn’t allow fresh construction on the burned land swiftly registered almost 75,000 signatures.
Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Croatia and Portugal offered help in the form of firefighting planes and fire brigades. The Prime Minister of North Macedonia (who recently agreed an end to a long-running dispute with Greece over his country’s former designation as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) pledged another $6 million to help its southern neighbour.
According to data from the EU’s Joint Research Centre, between 2006 and 2015 an average 1,209 wildfires broke out in Greece each year. But 2018 has been the deadliest year since 2007, when 84 people died and 2,700km² of forest were destroyed across the country.
- See also a timeline of wildfires in 2017 and 2018.