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Storm Elias fills homes with mud in central Greece

Storm Elias fills homes with mud in central Greece

By Petros Giannakouris and Derek Gatopolous | Associated Press

VOLOS, Greece — A second powerful storm in less than a month hammered parts of central Greece on Thursday, sweeping away roads, smashing bridges and flooding thousands of homes.

The storm — called Elias — caused extensive flooding in the central city of Volos and left hundreds stranded in nearby mountain villages. The fire service carried out multiple rescues and evacuations, authorities said.

Rescuers were also searching a mountainous area for the pilot of a private helicopter that went missing in the bad weather.

“All of Volos has turned into a lake,” Volos Mayor Achilleas Beos told state television. “People’s lives are in danger. Even I remained trapped, and 80% of the city is without power. … I don’t know where God found so much water. It’s like the story of Noah’s Ark.”

Bad weather earlier this month struck the same area, killing 16 people, and causing more than 2 billion euros ($2.1 billion) in damage to farms and infrastructure.

Authorities said there were no deaths this time and that apart from the pilot, none of the residents from the afflicted regions were reported missing.

Military and municipal crews scrambled to flooded areas. They placed flood victims, many of them elderly, in dinghies or excavator buckets to lead them to safety. A total 280 people were removed to safe areas, the fire service said.

Residents in Volos used plastic buckets and brooms to push the mud out of their homes and to try to protect their belongings. Among them was 83-year-old Apostolis Dafereras, who has lived in a suburb of the city since 1955.

“I have never seen anything like this,” Dafereras said, looking out the window of his ground-floor home as knee-high flood water gushed past. Earlier, he and other residents on his street tried to push mud and flood water out of his home.

“The water came in and we were practically swimming,” Dafereras said. “We stayed upstairs with our tenant.”

Authorities said the worst damage was reported around Volos and in northern parts of the nearby island of Evia, an area vulnerable to flooding due to the impact of massive wildfires two years ago.

The European Union has promised Greece more than 2 billion euros in financial support to cope with the damage caused by summer wildfires and the ongoing floods, while Athens is renegotiating the terms of other aid packages to direct funds toward climate change adaptation.

“Volos has been hit a second time with a storm of lasting duration. … The state is with those who are struggling,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in Parliament. “The positive course of the country has been overshadowed by natural disasters that are attacks caused by climate change.”

Mitsotakis promised to rebuild infrastructure to a higher standard after roads, bridges and rail tracks were washed away in the floods. But many flood victims in Volos said they felt unprotected, angered that their homes had been damaged for a second time.

“The situation wasn’t just handled in an amateur way,” city resident Pantos Pinakas said. “It was handled in a way (that was) extremely dangerous and reprehensible.”

Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Associated Press writer Lefteris Pitarakis in Volos, Greece, contributed to this report.