By DEMETRIS NELLAS and COSTAS KANTOURIS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The body of a missing 77-year-old man was found Saturday, raising the death toll from floods in central Greece to 11, authorities said. The number of missing increased to six, but there could be more.
The man was living in the seaside village of Paltsi, in the mountainous Pelion peninsula situated between the Aegean Sea to the east and Pagasitikos gulf to the west. He had refused to leave his home, despite the entreaties of his wife, who evacuated. “I have been through storms,” he had told her.
The man’s body drifted in the Aegean, past the island of Skiathos, to another island, Evia, where it was found late Saturday, authorities said.
Pelion was hit by torrential rains first on Tuesday, with some locations reporting close to 30 inches of rain in less than a day. The rest of the region of Thessaly, to the west, was struck later Tuesday and on Wednesday and Thursday.
Another village near a major Greek city was ordered evacuated Saturday afternoon as authorities frantically shored up flood defenses against a rising river.
Rescue crews were evacuating stranded residents from areas already flooded elsewhere in Thessaly.
The village of Omorfochori, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) by road from the city of Larissa, Thessaly’s capital and largest city, was ordered evacuated by SMS alert due to the rising waters of the Pineios river. Residents were directed to a town to the southeast.
But the main concern remains that the already overflowing river could inundate Larissa itself, a city of around 150,000. Authorities placed tens of thousands of bags full of sand and pebbles along the river’s banks, while opening up diversion channels west of the city.
The governor of Thessaly, Kostas Agorastos, was visiting the town of Palamas — one of the worst stricken areas in the southwest of the region — when he was evacuated by police Saturday afternoon. A small crowd of protesters had started shouting abuse at him and then jostled him, a video posted on social media showed.
Agorastos, a member of the ruling conservative New Democracy party, said Friday that local and regional elections cannot take place in Thessaly as scheduled on Oct. 8, with runoffs a week later. First elected governor in 2010, Agorastos is running for a fourth term.
The proximity of the local and regional polls has intensified the usual blame game from opposition parties eager to dent New Democracy’s supremacy that was confirmed in national elections in May and June. New Democracy controls 11 out of the country’s 13 regions.
But there has been much criticism about state and local authorities’ response to the latest disaster to hit Greece, hard on the heels of devastating wildfires.
The rescue response to the floods that resulted from torrential rains that hit the area from Tuesday to Thursday was negligible until early Thursday, while people were clinging to the roofs of their stricken homes, according to a report in Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini. The same paper reported Saturday that, of the Air Force’s 12 search-and-rescue Puma helicopters, only four are operational, with the rest either cannibalized for spare parts or grounded for so long that they can no longer fly.
There are also questions about the ability of regional and local authorities to deal with major crises, despite the expansion in responsibilities and funding under reforms enacted over a decade ago.
Kantouris reported from Paltsi, Greece.