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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

At least 15 dead in flash floods on Greek coast

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared a day of national mourning on Thursday

A person walks past debris and a downed power line in a flooded street in the town of Mandra, northwest of Athens, on November 15, 2017, after heavy overnight rainfall in the area caused damage and left at least 14 people dead. AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis
A person walks past debris and a downed power line in a flooded street in the town of Mandra, northwest of Athens, on November 15, 2017, after heavy overnight rainfall in the area caused damage and left at least 14 people dead. AFP / Angelos Tzortzinis

Flash floods killed at least 15 people, made scores homeless and destroyed infrastructure in Greece on Wednesday after a raging torrent inundated two coastal towns west of Athens following a night of heavy rain.

In devastation locals said was unprecedented in scale, an overnight deluge triggered flash floods in the industrial towns of Nea Peramos and Mandra in the foothills of a mountain just west of Athens.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared a day of national mourning on Thursday. "This is a very difficult moment for our country," he said. Announcing the death toll in a televised address, he added: "It is the wish of all of us that this number does not increase."

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, expressed "solidarity" with the people of Greece, adding: "A tragedy in any of our Member States is a tragedy for all of Europe."

Residents said they were woken on Wednesday morning by rainwater and mud coming through their homes. As the scale of destruction became clearer during the day, large areas were covered in water and mud. In some areas floodwaters rose to the first storey of small buildings.

"There was just an incredible amount of water which caused raging torrents," said Yiannis Kapakis, the head of Greece's civil protection service.

Torrential rain of this type is uncommon in Greece, where poor infrastructure can leave citizens vulnerable to flooding. It has been raining steadily for about a week, and the country's met office issued a new severe weather warning for Thursday.

Some residents were forced onto rooftops and balconies while cars were thrust onto porches of homes, rammed like dodgem vehicles into tree trunks or tipped onto their side.

"This is a biblical disaster," Mandra Mayor Yianna Krikouki told state broadcaster ERT. "Everything is gone."

The Attica prefecture, the administrative district for both towns, said it would seek assistance from the EU Solidarity Fund, set up to respond to natural disasters. A state of emergency was declared in the region.

"The walls collapsed, the cars were carried away and they broke everything here. There is nothing left," resident Marina Kolia said. "Water is everywhere in the house."

There were fears the death toll could rise further as rescue crews searched flooded homes and streets on the western outskirts of Athens.

Mandra and Nea Peramos have a combined population of about 20,000. Many Greek housing settlements are built without taking into account town planning regulations.

An Athens prosecutor ordered an urgent preliminary investigation into the deaths and destruction caused and was also investigating possible urban planning offences.

The deaths came a day after authorities declared a state of emergency on the small Aegean Sea island of Symi due to torrential rainfall there that flooded homes and shops, swept vehicles into the sea and cut power after the local power station was flooded.