Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared a state of mourning after a freak overnight downpour with the force of a “waterfall” flooded three towns near Athens, killing at least 15 people.
“At this time, declaring a state of national mourning over this great tragedy is the least we can do,” Tsipras said in a televised address on Wednesday.
“I pledge that we will stand next to the families of the victims with all the means at our disposal,” he added.
The flooding, described as the worst in 20 years, struck the towns of Mandra, Nea Peramos and Megara, a semi-rural area west of Athens where many factories and warehouses are based.
“The situation is very difficult, the Niagara Falls came down and could not be stopped,” deputy regional governor Yiannis Vassileiou told ERT.
“The weather forecast is poor, so we are on alert. A river of debris went through Mandra… this is unprecedented,” he said.
“Everything is lost, the disaster is biblical,” Mandra mayor Ioanna Kriekouki told the station.
Parts of the area were without electricity and authorities said many people would need shelter for the night while the deputy mayor of the town of Nea Peramos, which was without water, said repairs may take up to five days.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the deaths had been caused by a “disastrous flood” and expressed deep sorrow for the deaths.
The fire service said it had received more than 600 calls for help and dispatched nearly 200 firemen to the area.
A prosecutor ordered an investigation into building violations in the area. Geologist Dimitris Papanikolaou said ill-conceived construction in the area meant this was a disaster waiting to happen.
“The water came down the mountain, millions of tonnes,” Nea Peramos deputy mayor told state broadcaster ERT as locals braced for another night of heavy rainfall.