ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The death toll from severe flooding in central Greece rose to 10 people Friday, while another four remained missing, the country's civil protection minister said. Rescue crews in helicopters and boats ferried hundreds of people from inundated villages to safety.
Flooding triggered by rainstorms also hit neighboring Bulgaria and Turkey, killing a total of 22 people in all three countries since the rains began Tuesday.
In Greece, the rainstorms turned streams into raging torrents that burst dams, washed away roads and bridges and hurled cars into the sea, and many of the flooded areas were left without power or drinking water. Authorities have said some regions received twice the average annual rainfall for Athens in the space of just 12 hours.
Although the rainstorms had stopped by Friday, floodwater continued to rise after the Pineios River burst its banks near the city of Larissa, one of Greece's largest cities with a population of around 150,000, triggering evacuation orders for several areas.
“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.”
Climate Crisis and Civil Protection Minister Vassilis Kikilias said the Pineios River levels were “keeping us on constant alert.”
“Great care must be taken by all as the flooding could intensify at any moment," he said.
By late Friday, officials said that more than 2,500 people had been rescued, including 420 plucked from the flooded areas by helicopter from 14 villages.
More than 1,000 rescuers and 20 helicopters were involved in the operation, including three Swiss helicopters that had been in Greece to assist in efforts to battle recent deadly wildfires. They were being used to ferry food and water to inundated villages, Kikilias said.
Much of the affected region was fertile farmland where key food crops are grown, and experts have voiced fears that the overall cost of the flooding could significantly exceed 1 billion euros ($1.06 billion).
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who canceled his annual state of the economy speech scheduled for the weekend and was visiting the flooded areas on Friday, said that he had contacted the European Union to request financial assistance from the 27-member bloc for rebuilding.
“Our first priority over the next few days is to ensure we can evacuate our fellow citizens from areas where they might be in danger,” Mitsotakis said.
Hundreds of people were trapped in villages unreachable by vehicle as roads were washed away or severed by rockfalls. 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. Local media showed scenes of devastation.
Rescuers chest-deep in water carried an elderly evacuee on a stretcher on their shoulders, while 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 without food or water.
In the Pilion area, residents and tourists were ferried to safety by sea late Thursday as all access roads to some villages were severed.
Two of the four people still listed as missing Friday were a young Austrian couple who vanished from Pilion's coast. Residents said they had come to Greece to be married and have their honeymoon, and were probably swept away with the bungalow they had been staying in when floodwaters struck on Tuesday.
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.