At least 14 die in Greece freak flood

ATHENS: At least 14 people died on Wednesday after a freak overnight downpour with the force of a "waterfall" flooded three towns in Greece, officials said.

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 water came down the mountain, millions of tonnes," Nea Peramos deputy mayor Stavros Fotiou told state TV ERT as locals braced for another night of heavy rainfall.

"Our roads are completely destroyed ... 1,000 homes have been flooded, that's a third of the town," he added.

The greater Athens governor's office said the "force and danger posed by the (weather front) is unprecedented."

"We had another incident in 1999 but it was nothing like this," said Megara mayor Grigoris Stamoulis.

Television images showed tanker trucks, buses and lorries nearly completely submerged in the reddish mud torrent snaking through entire neighbourhoods.

Three people were hospitalised, the fire department said. One person was missing.

The fire service reported 12 dead and the coastguard two more.

The dead, men and women aged 35 to over 90, included a handful of people who perished inside or near their homes, a truck driver, a hunter, and two men who were carried by the raging water miles (kilometres) away to the sea.

More than a dozen people were rescued from an intercity bus, while others fled a Johnson & Johnson factory whose outer wall collapsed.

The prime minister's office said 87 people had been rescued overall.

Greece's civil protection authority said three highways had been severed with traffic rerouted.

'Niagara Falls'

"The situation is very difficult, the Niagara Falls came down and could not be stopped," deputy regional governor Yiannis Vassileiou told state-run TV network ERT.

"The weather forecast is poor, so we are on alert," he said.

"A river of debris went through Mandra ... This is unprecedented," Vassileiou said.

"Everything is lost, the disaster is biblical," Mandra mayor Ioanna Kriekouki told the station.

"We have people who are trapped ... we need machinery to get them out of their homes," said Kriekouki, who was also immobilised in her home.

Parts of the area were without electricity, and authorities said many people would need shelter for the night.

The town of Nea Peramos is also without water and repairs may take up to five days, the deputy mayor said.

"Access to the area is difficult, debris has nearly reached the height of homes," said fire department spokesman Yiannis Kapakis.

The deputy governor said rubble-clearing equipment had been moved to the area but could not be used until the water levels subside.

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.

Stricken areas will request EU solidarity funds, the governor's office said.

On Tuesday, intense rain had also struck the eastern Aegean island of Symi, without causing victims. — AFP