Illegal building 'played central role' in floods that killed 20 in Athens

Uncontrolled construction in Greek capital has led to many streams being concreted over, leaving rivers no outlet to the sea

Chaotic urban planning and illegal construction in Athens played a central role in the deadly flash floods that killed 20 people last week, experts in Greece have claimed as authorities pledged emergency funding for victimsmade homeless by the disaster.

About 1,000 owners of homes and businesses are eligible for the assistance, according to government engineers dispatched to inspect the buildings.

“All buildings that have sustained damage will receive emergency funding of €5,000 [£4,400] while businesses in the same situation will receive €8,000,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said on Monday.

Five days after the flash floods turned the city’s roads into raging torrents of mud and debris, specialised rescue response teams continued to search for missing people.

Two male drivers thought to have been trapped in their vehicles when the torrential rains hit have yet to be accounted for. The death toll rose on Sunday when disaster units discovered two bodies in a warehouse in Mandra, the western suburb where damage was most widespread.

Most of the fatalities were elderly people found in basement flats that had been inundated by floodwater. Two men were swept into the sea in the bay of Eleusis, 11 miles (18km) from Athens city centre, by the force of the deluge.

Poor infrastructure, including drainage systems, often makes Athens susceptible to flooding. But many believe the roads in the three suburbs of Mandra, Megara and Nea Peramos were inundated because of human intervention.

Uncontrolled building on the outskirts of the Greek capital has resulted in numerous streams being concreted over, leaving rivers with no natural outlet to the sea. A lack of anti-flooding measures exacerbated the disaster.

Geologists described the floods as a tragedy waiting to happen. A network of streams in the foothills of the mountain where the neighbourhoods are located has been paved over in recent decades, including a stretch of riverbed where municipal authorities have constructed buildings.

“The tragedy is that in 1996 we had two victims in the same area [of Mandra] precisely because the flow of water had been blocked,” said Dimitris Papanikolaou, emeritus professor of geology at Athens University.

He added that such were the dangers of flooding in Mandra, it had been a course study for his doctoral students. “Nature had already warned that such intervention was disastrous, that not maintaining the natural flow of water was disastrous,” he said.

Aliki Mouriki, a prominent sociologist, said the floods had been very revealing because they had exposed all the “weaknesses and pathologies” of the modern Greek state.

“In the saddest possible way, they have not only highlighted the lack of urban planning but housing policies for the poor in working-class areas,” she said.

“When people’s pressing needs aren’t met, they resort to their own solutions – in this case illegal construction with no environmental considerations or respect for rules and regulations.”


Helena Smith in Athens

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'Unique' petrified tree up to 20m years old found intact in Lesbos
Discovery of 19.5-metre tree with roots, branches and leaves is unprecedented, say experts

Helena Smith in Athens

25, Feb, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Deadly flash floods cause 'biblical damage' in Athens
Roads are turned into torrents of mud and debris, homes and businesses are deluged and bad weather is forecast to continue

Helena Smith in Athens

15, Nov, 2017 @5:55 PM

Article image
Storms in France, Greece and Italy leave 'biblical destruction'
Nine people die as weekend of heavy rain brings landslides, floods and collapsed overpass

Angela Giuffrida in Rome, Kim Willsher in Paris, and Helena Smith in Athens

25, Nov, 2019 @4:36 PM

Article image
Paris floods: 'There's something terrifying about it'
As roads and walkways are submerged by floods, life goes on in Paris and beyond

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

04, Jun, 2016 @6:26 AM

Article image
Death toll rises and thousands flee homes as floods hit China
Torrential rainfall and burst rivers swamp Henan cities, with commuters trapped on subway trains

Vincent Ni China affairs correspondent, and Helen Davidson in Taipei

21, Jul, 2021 @11:05 AM

Article image
Bangkok residents flee as floods threaten to overwhelm capital

Mass evacuation as authorities fear crocodiles from outlying areas may have arrived in the city's swollen watercourses

Robert Booth

28, Oct, 2011 @6:10 PM

Article image
Dutch council forces playground to close over noise complaints
More than 4,000 sign petition to overturn decision, which aimed to appease neighbours

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

10, Jul, 2019 @4:00 AM

Article image
Bangkok residents flee floods as river threatens to burst banks
Thai capital reaches 'critical moment' as breach in Chao Phraya river defences likely this weekend

Tania Branigan and agencies

27, Oct, 2011 @9:02 AM

Article image
How can Peru prepare to withstand more devastating floods and landslides?
After record rains caused $3bn worth of damage, Peru must build infrastructure to prepare for any more extreme climate events in the future

Dan Collyns

13, Apr, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
Residents of Athens’ historic Exarchia Square resist metro station plan
Protesters say station is part of gentrification scheme aimed at altering historically leftwing area

Helena Smith in Athens

17, Aug, 2022 @4:00 AM