Greek floods bring more flak on government’s handling of disasters

Opposition MP calls Mitsotakis administration ‘rickety’ when it comes to managing catastrophes.

By Nektaria Stamouli
September 9, 2023

ATHENS — The government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has come under attack for its handling of another natural disaster, as the death toll from severe flooding in central Greece rose to 10 people and the extent of the calamity remained unknown.

With whole villages under water, rescue crews in helicopters, boats and bulldozers continued on Saturday to evacuate residents from rooftops, amid fears that the number of missing could rise sharply. Local media reporting apocalyptic scenes with dead bodies floating in the water.

The flooding follows last month’s massive wildfires in the region of Athens, which also sparked charges of insufficient preparations for disasters.

The rainstorms that started on Tuesday turned streams into raging torrents that burst dams, washed away roads and bridges and hurled cars into the sea. Mudflows have reached the rooftops of the houses in several villages.

The Thessaly plain, which accounts for more than 25 percent of the country’s agricultural production, had practically turned into a vast lake. The flooded areas were left without power or drinking water. Thessaly’s regional governor Kostas Agorastos told state TV that the damage from the storm is estimated at €2 billion or more.

Disaster management expert Efthymios Lekkas told state TV it would take at least 5 years for the damage in the agricultural sector to be restored and the plain to become fertile again.

“We have not yet realized the extent of the damage,” he said. “We are facing a disaster, … which may be bigger, economically speaking, than the 1999 earthquake, which was the biggest disaster in recent history of our country.”

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Larissa, one of Greece’s largest cities with a population of around 150,000, is on high alert, as the level of the Pineios River rose more than 10 meters in places overnight. Evacuation orders have been issued for several areas.

Greek newspaper Kathimerini described “confusion” in communication over the response after the flooding started. As a result, for several hours rescue vehicles and personnel of the fire brigade or the army did not appear, the paper said. It also said that of the 12 Super Puma search-and-rescue aircraft only 4 can fly and only 2 had enough hours available to operate in Thessaly.

Predictions of the amount of rainfall that would occur and the risk of flooding went unheeded, the news website reported.

“The disaster has the signature of the rickety ‘executive state’ of Mitsotakis,” said Efi Achtsioglou, an MP with Syriza, the main opposition party. Syriza called for an immediate update on the number of missing.

Socialists Pasok leader Nikos Androulakis said the government’s failure to create a framework for dealing with natural disasters has made Greece “more vulnerable” to climate change.

Mitsotakis visited the region on Friday and pledged full support and resources to help the affected areas. “I understand both anger and rage,” he said. “I want you to know that we will do everything humanly possible.”

He stressed that he would ask for “the maximum support” from the EU for the recovery operation. He said in comments to media that he had already sent a letter to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and talks have already started between Athens and the European Investment Bank for a loan.

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Mitsotakis postponed a speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair, an annual address in which the prime minister traditionally unveils the government’s main economic policy. Syriza postponed the election of a new party leader scheduled for Sunday.

Agorastos, the governor in Thessaly, called for regional elections set for October 8 to be postponed.

“Instead of asking for postponement of elections, Agorastos should better give answers for the millions [of euros] he got for flood control projects after Ianos,” another storm that hit Greece in September 2020, Syriza MP Nasos Iliopoulos posted on social media.

Agorastos on Saturday was attacked by angry locals in the affected area and police had to intervene, according to local media.

Separately, Greece’s sovereign credit rating was raised to investment grade status by DBRS Morningstar. In the move after markets closed on Friday, DBRS became the first rating agency to bring Greece into investment grade since 2010.

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