Storm Daniel causes chaos in Athens

The death toll from flooding in Greece rises to four and more than 800 rescued from rising water

Storm Daniel
A bus submerged by floods in Patanias, Greece.ALEXANDROS AVRAMIDIS (REUTERS)

Storm Daniel, the first medicane (a portmanteau of ‘Mediterranean’ and ‘hurricane’) of the season, has arrived in Athens and the toll of victims has increased with it. Greek firefighters on Thursday recovered the body of a man from a stream in central Greece, bringing the country’s death toll from floods this week to four. Another six people were missing. Flooding triggered by severe rainstorms also hit neighboring Bulgaria and Turkey, leaving a total of 15 people dead in the three countries.

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.

“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. He noted that some areas received more than twice the average annual rainfall of Athens in the space of 12 hours.

On Wednesday the lifeless body of an 82-year-old man was found in Karditsa, in central Greece, after he was swept away by the current. An elderly man missing in the Pelion peninsula was rescued on Wednesday afternoon, but his wife was found dead, according to the Skaï news channel.

Floodwaters cover a car and the yards of houses in Milina village, Pilion region, central Greece, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023
Floodwaters cover a car and the yards of houses in Milina village, in the Pelion region, on Tuesday.Thanasis Kalliaras (AP)

As it moved away from Volos, the most affected city in Greece, located 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital, the historic storm flooded a large part of the Thessaly plain, the only area of the country that is relatively flat. The National Observatory of Athens has distributed a satellite image showing the extent of the flooding. It has even affected areas where the amount of rain has not been extraordinary, because in areas such as the Pelion peninsula the rainfall exceeded 800 mm in less than 48 hours — an all-time record in Greece.

The storm has also caused rivers and streams in mountainous areas to burst their banks, including in Attica, the capital region. Although the meteorological services had given two days’ advance warning that the storm would be heading there, its arrival has caused chaos in the center of Athens. Wednesday dawned bright and sunny and during the morning there were only isolated showers. But starting at 4:00 p.m. (local time) the showers gave way to torrential rain and thunderstorms. The rainfall was so intense and sudden that there were flash floods on several main streets, such as Alexandras Avenue and Evangelismos, and swept away pedestrians. Fortunately, there were no major consequences. In the popular neighborhood of Exarcheia, the streets became rivers that dragged motorcycles and flower pots in their path.

The police cut off traffic on most highways and two-lane streets in the capital, fearing that cars would be submerged. This measure, which probably saved lives, also caused traffic chaos. The subway has not been operating normally because several stations have been flooded.

In Piraeus, the country’s main port and a fundamental hub for communication with the islands, the water was around 40 centimeters (15.75 inches) deep in the streets that connect the docks with central Piraeus.

Volos, “war zone”

But the worst scenario is in Volos, described by its mayor as a “war zone.” Most of Magnesia, the region where the port city is located, is without drinking water or electricity for the second consecutive day. Stocks of bottled water have been depleted in businesses that have not been flooded. The army has distributed bottles in the town hall square of Volos, but residents have complained in the local media that it was insufficient. In addition, a nursing home was swept away by the flow, although fortunately there were no casualties.

The Minister of Climate Crisis and Civil Protection, Vasilis Kikilias, stated in a press conference that 360 firefighters, in 158 vehicles, saved 417 members of the public this Wednesday.

The public agency APE-MPE reported that several municipalities in the Domokos plain have been evacuated by boat. Hundreds of the towns’ inhabitants waited for help to arrive on the top floors of their buildings, or on any other elevated structure, while they watched their streets, their houses, and their cars disappear under the mud.

In Pelion, a large number of roads and bridges have been washed away. Public television ERT has broadcast how the emergency services have set up a rope bridge across the enormous gap in what until two days ago was a viaduct. They have used it to transport kidney patients from from a hospital on one side to the other using stretchers. It was the only way for patients to receive their treatment at the Volos hospital. Not even a helicopter transfer was possible. Thanks to the rope bridge, all of them reached the medical center in time.

Lamia, a city of 44,000 inhabitants, is completely flooded. All the rivers that surround it have overflowed, the streets and squares have become a swamp in which mud has taken the place of vegetation. There is still no official count of the number of flooded municipalities.

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