Severe rainstorms eased but floodwaters were still rising in parts of central Greece Friday, while fire department and military helicopters were plucking people from villages inundated by tons of water and mud.
Flooding triggered by rainstorms also hit neighbouring Bulgaria and Turkey, killing a total of 18 people in all three countries since the rains began Tuesday.
In Greece, severe rainstorms that lashed the country turned streams into raging torrents that burst dams, washed away roads and bridges and hurled cars into the sea. Authorities said some areas received twice the average annual rainfall for Athens in the space of just 12 hours.
The coast guard said the body of a 69-year-old man was recovered from the sea in the coastal town of Volos Friday, but added that it was not clear whether the flooding was responsible for his death. Local media reported the man slipped and fell from rocks while trying to get fresh water as the flooding had knocked out the local water supply.
Hundreds of people were believed to be 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.
Evacuation orders were issued for four areas near the city of Larissa Friday, with authorities sending alerts to cell phones in the area warning that the Pineios River had burst its banks. Parts of Larissa, one of Greece's largest cities, were already starting to flood.
“The situation is tragic,” Larissa resident Ioanna Gana told Greece's Open television channel, adding that water levels in her flooded neighbourhood were rising “minute by minute.”
Elsewhere, residents of villages left without electricity or drinking water dialled into Greek television and radio stations, appealing for help and saying people were still trapped on rooftops without food or water.
Between Tuesday and early Friday, the fire department said more than 1,800 people had been rescued and received more than 6,000 calls for help pumping water from flooded homes and removing fallen trees.
In the Pilion area, residents and tourists were ferried to safety by sea late Thursday as all access roads to some villages were severed. On Thursday alone, a fleet of 10 helicopters airlifted 110 people from the hard-hit areas of Karditsa and Trikala to safety. At the same time, dozens more were being rescued by air and boats Friday.
Authorities have deployed swift water rescue specialists and divers as floodwaters rose above 2 metres high in some areas, leaving many houses flooded. 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.