Greece to give millions in compensation to flood victims

Greece to give millions in compensation to flood victims

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece said on Monday it would offer emergency compensation worth millions of euros to hundreds of households affected by flash flooding west of Athens that killed at least 20 people on Nov. 15.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were extensively damaged in the coastal towns of Mandra and Nea Peramos when a torrent of mud and water smashed into the settlements, built along dry gullies on the foothills of a mountain range.

Twenty people died and two remain missing from the early-morning deluge, the worst casualty toll from flooding since 1977 when more than 30 people died.

The disaster has prompted recriminations and finger-pointing over a perceived inability of Greek authorities to act on prior warnings that areas with poor infrastructure and unlicensed construction were vulnerable to flooding. Critics also asked why flood prevention projects had been delayed.

Authorities will offer flood victims up to 5,000 euros ($5,896.50) for households and 8,000 euros for businesses, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.

It was not immediately clear how much the state had budgeted for compensation. Tzanakopoulos told Reuters the amount would come from the national budget.

That assistance would be over and above compensation residents were entitled to, comprised of 60 percent government aid and 40 percent interest-free loan, he said.

The flash flooding hit many areas of the country, including housing settlements where town planning regulations are often flouted.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Greeks in mourning and disbelief after flood that killed at least 15

Greeks in mourning and disbelief after flood that killed at least 15

MANDRA, Greece (Reuters) – Greeks voiced despair and disbelief on Thursday after a flash flood killed at least 15 people and left hundreds homeless, with many blaming a system that allowed houses to be built on dried up river beds.

In the towns of Nea Peramos and Mandra west of the capital Athens, crumpled cars and mangled furniture lay on roads caked in the thick mud left behind by a raging torrent that smashed through homes on Wednesday morning. [nL8N1NL22V]

“We are ruined. My tavern and my house are gone,” said Paraskevas Stamou, a restaurant owner in Mandra. “Everything is gone, the road is gone, the water is still flowing and we were flooded again last night and this morning.

“We are expecting another downpour tonight. It’s like God hates us,” he told Reuters.

Maria Kriada is comforted outside her destroyed house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Maria Kriada is comforted outside her destroyed house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

To escape the lethal floodwaters, residents took desperate measures.

“We had nowhere to sleep. We slept on the roof, we found carpets to cover ourselves,” said a man in Mandra whose house was gutted by the flood but remained standing.

Between sobs, his mother added: “Everything went. We don’t have anyone to help us. I don’t have help from anyone.”

Bad weather continued on Thursday. Officials said they were waiting for conditions to improve before giving a clearer picture of the damage. Five people were still missing.

Flags flew half-mast from state buildings and the Acropolis on Thursday as the government declared three days of national mourning.

Newspapers expressed anger. “A Crime,” was the headline in Ta Nea daily, superimposed on a picture of a woman being comforted next to an overturned car. “The Deeds of Man,” wrote the leftist Avgi, referring to unlicensed constructions.

Experts blamed haphazard construction which the natural path for water runoff, and soil erosion on a mountain range hit by fires.

Both towns were built along an old motorway linking Athens to the Peloponnese city of Corinth. As building crept closer to the road, streams that would have drained runoff from the nearby Pateras mountains were blocked.

“Of course the state wasn’t prepared … we cannot compete with nature,” said Christos Zeferos, head of the research center for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology Academy of Athens, adding that climate change meant people should expect more weather-related disasters.

“We should be prepared for more frequent, and different phenomena,” he told Reuters.

Many of the victims were elderly. The youngest was a 36-year old truck driver who called his mother as the floodwaters rose around his lorry. The line went dead soon afterwards.

General aerial view of a flooded area following flash floods in Mandra, West Attica, Greece November 15, 2017 in this still image taken from social media video.     NATIONAL AND KAPODISTRIAN UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS/via REUTERS

General aerial view of a flooded area following flash floods in Mandra, West Attica, Greece November 15, 2017 in this still image taken from social media video. NATIONAL AND KAPODISTRIAN UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS/via REUTERS

(Reporting By Michele Kambas, Renee Maltezou, Alkis Konstantinidis and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Flash floods kill at least 10 in downpour near Athens

Flash floods kill at least 10 in downpour near Athens

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis

MANDRA, Greece (Reuters) – At least 10 people died in flash floods in Greece on Wednesday in the most deadly such incident in recent years when a torrent of red mud swept through towns west of the capital Athens after heavy rain, authorities said.

Torrential rain of this type is uncommon in Greece, where poor infrastructure can leave citizens vulnerable to flooding.

The overnight deluge turned roads in the industrial towns of Nea Peramos and Mandra, about 27 km (17 miles) west of Athens, into fast-flowing rivers and trapped dozens of people in their homes or cars.

Some residents were forced onto rooftops and balconies while cars were thrust onto porches or tipped onto their side. Twelve people were rescued from a bus on a bridge.

“This is a biblical disaster,” Mandra Mayor Yianna Krikouki told state broadcaster ERT. “Everything is gone.”

Heavy vehicles, a bus and cars were stranded under more than a meter of water on a nearby motorway. The force of the water smashed through walls and broke through roads.

In Mandra, five people – two women and three men – were found dead either in their flooded homes or in allotments. Another two were found floating in the sea.

“The walls collapsed, the cars were carried away and they broke everything here. There is nothing left,” resident Marina Kolia said. “Water is everywhere in the house.”

The wall of a local cemetery crumbled and vehicles collided with tree trunks. The fire brigade said at least three people were missing, and an unspecified number of people injured.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed regret at the loss of life and called for an emergency meeting with ministers.

Greece has had around a week of heavy rain. A state of emergency was declared in the west Attica region, which includes Nea Peramos and Mandra, on Wednesday.

Both towns, which have a combined population of about 20,000 people, lie in the foothills of a mountain in western Attica. Many Greek housing settlements are built without taking into account town planning regulations.

An Athens prosecutor ordered an urgent preliminary investigation into the deaths and destruction caused and was also investigating possible urban planning offences.

On Tuesday, Greece declared a state of emergency on the eastern island of Symi, just off the coast of Turkey, after a storm swept cars into the sea, damaged homes and cut off electricity and water supplies.

(Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Business group pushes for U.S. flood insurance reform as December deadline looms

Business group pushes for U.S. flood insurance reform as December deadline looms

By Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The latest attempt to overhaul the U.S. federal flood insurance program hit a stumbling block, but a coalition of business and environmental groups renewed their push on Wednesday for lawmakers to enact an overhaul before the program expires on Dec. 8.

The SmarterSafer coalition sent a letter to members of the U.S. House urging passage of the compromise legislation that would extend to 2022 the federal program that has been heavily utilized after vast flooding from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“This legislative package moves the flood program in the right direction and contains needed reforms that will better protect those in harm’s way, the environment, and taxpayers,” the letter states, according to a copy seen by Reuters.

The hurdle came with the House Rules Committee indefinitely postponed a hearing on the bill that was scheduled for Tuesday night.

“Clearly they’re trying to make sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row and they’ve got all the votes they need,” said Steve Ellis, with the conservative group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which is part of a coalition pushing for reform of the program.

Joshua Saks, the legislative director of the National Wildlife Federation, said one of the shortcomings of the compromise is that it does not ensure that the money for flood mitigation projects will ever be spent.

“We need an Apollo project of mitigation right now, we need billions right now up front,” Saks said, referring to the project that put a man on the moon.

Two prominent Republican members of the U.S. House announced last week they had struck a deal that would extend the life of the program that covers most of the nation’s flood-prone properties.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Texas brokered the compromise and said the deal helps policy holders and taxpayers.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed a $36.5 billion disaster relief bill, including $16 billion in forgiveness of some debt in the National Flood Insurance Program, which insures about 5 million homes and businesses.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson. Additional reporting by David Shepardson.)

Death toll from Vietnam storm tops 60 and dams near bursting

Officials sail a boat out of a submerged local government building after typhoon Damrey hits Vietnam in Hue city, Vietnam November 5, 2017.

By Mai Nguyen

DANANG, Vietnam (Reuters) – The death toll from a typhoon and ensuing floods in Vietnam reached 61 on Monday and the government said some reservoirs were dangerously near capacity after persistent rain.

Typhoon Damrey tore across central Vietnam at the weekend just days before the region is due to host the APEC summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, among them U.S. President Donald Trump, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The Communist state’s Search and Rescue Committee said 61 people had been killed and 28 were recorded as missing. It said some of the victims were in vessels that capsized at sea. Others were killed in landslides. It did not give a full breakdown.

More than 2,000 homes had collapsed and more than 80,000 had been damaged, it said. Roads that had been flooded or washed away caused traffic jams across several provinces.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc chaired an emergency meeting on the disaster. Ministers said that because some dams were so full, water might need to be released to relieve pressure – potentially worsening flooding downstream.

In Danang, authorities called on soldiers and local people to clean up so that the beach resort would be ready for delegates to the meetings of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries, which started on Monday.

Leaders are due to meet from Nov. 10 and organizers said the schedule had not been disrupted because of the weather.

But in much of the ancient town of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage site that spouses of APEC leaders are scheduled to visit on Saturday, muddy waters rose to head height and people boated through the streets.

People ride a boat along submerged houses in UNESCO heritage ancient town of Hoi An after typhoon Damrey hits Vietnam November 6, 2017.

People ride a boat along submerged houses in UNESCO heritage ancient town of Hoi An after typhoon Damrey hits Vietnam November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Hoang Tran Son, 37, who left his home there when the water reached his chest, said it was the worst flooding he had seen for decades.

“We’re pretty much all right in the city, but people in remote areas are devastated,” he said.

The storm moved from the coastal area into a key coffee-growing region of the world’s biggest producer of robusta coffee beans. The typhoon had damaged some coffee trees at the start of the harvest season, farm officials said. But farmers in Daklak, the heart of the region, said the damage was limited.

Authorities said that more than 7,000 farm animals had been killed.

Floods killed more than 80 people in northern Vietnam last month, while a typhoon wreaked havoc in central provinces in September. The country of more than 90 million people is prone to destructive storms and flooding, due to its long coastline.

 

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

 

Windy rainstorm whips U.S. Northeast, cutting power to hundreds of thousands

Storm Summary has been initialized for the deep low pressure system which is bringing damaging winds, heavy rain across the Northeast, even some snow over West Virginia.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Fierce winds and heavy rain downed trees and knocked out power across the U.S. Northeast, halting trains during the Monday morning commute and leaving neighborhoods from Boston to Washington in the dark.

Wind gusts of 82 miles (131.97 km) per hour were reported on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, while steady rain from Sunday into Monday dumped up to 4 inches (10.16 cm) of water across New England, said National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“There has been quite a bit of wind, and when the ground gets wet like this, trees fall,” Chenard said.

Amtrak train service between Boston and New Haven, Connecticut, was suspended early on Monday as crews scrambled to clear branches and restore power, authorities said.

Connecticut commuters piled onto buses or sought alternative routes after Metro-North Railroad suspended service on its New Canaan line and on its Danbury line, which it said on Twitter was hampered by a mudslide and related signal problems.

More than 800,000 homes and businesses lost electricity overnight throughout the Northeast, including about 300,000 customers in Massachusetts, 270,000 in New Hampshire, 142,000 in Rhode Island, 30,000 on New York’s Long Island, 56,000 in Maine and 35,000 in Vermont, according to local media.

Early on Monday, traffic lights in parts of Washington remained dark due to power outages.

The storm hit the East Coast on the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. That late-season hurricane killed at least 159 people in New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2012, and damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes.

The National Weather Service said the heaviest rains and winds ended late on Monday morning, but lighter precipitation and some gusts would persist throughout the day.

“The biggest potential now is for more trees to come down and for minor-to-moderate river flooding in eastern New York and much of New England today into tomorrow,” Chenard said.

It was not immediately known how long it would be until power is fully restored.

 

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Typhoon leaves flooding, four dead in Japan before moving out to sea

A collapsed road is seen following torrential rain caused by typhoon Lan in Kishiwada, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on October 23, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – A rapidly weakening typhoon Lan made landfall in Japan on Monday, setting off landslides and flooding that prompted evacuation orders for tens of thousands of people, but then headed out to sea after largely sparing the capital, Tokyo.

Four people were reported killed, hundreds of plane flights canceled, and train services disrupted in the wake of Lan, which had maintained intense strength until virtually the time it made landfall west of Tokyo in the early hours of Monday.

At least four people were killed, including a man who was hit by falling scaffolding, a fisherman tending to his boat, and a young woman whose car had been washed away by floodwaters.

Another casualty was left comatose by injuries and a man was missing, NHK public television said. Around 130 others suffered minor injuries.

Rivers burst their banks in several parts of Japan and fishing boats were tossed up on land. A container ship was stranded after being swept onto a harbor wall but all 19 crew members escaped injury.

Some 80,000 people in Koriyama, a city 200 km (124 miles) north of Tokyo, were ordered to evacuate as a river neared the top of its banks, NHK said, but by afternoon water levels were starting to fall. Several hundred houses in western Japan were flooded.

“My grandchild lives over there. The house is fine, but the area is flooded, and they can’t get out,” one man told NHK.

Lan had weakened to a category 2 storm when it made landfall early on Monday, sideswiping Tokyo, after powering north for days as an intense category 4 storm, according to the Tropical Storm Risk monitoring site.

Lan is the Marshall islands word for “storm”.

By Monday afternoon the storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression and it was in the Pacific, east of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Around 350 flights were canceled and train services disrupted over a wide area of Japan, although most commuter trains were running smoothly in Tokyo.

Toyota Motor Corp canceled the first shift at all of its assembly plants but said it would operate the second shift as normal.

 

(Additional reporting by Junko Fujita and Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

 

Three dead as Storm Ophelia batters Ireland

Three dead as Storm Ophelia batters Ireland

By Clodagh Kilcoyne

LAHINCH, Ireland (Reuters) – Three people died as Tropical Storm Ophelia battered Ireland’s southern coast on Monday, knocking down trees and power lines and whipping up 10-metre (30-foot) waves.

Over 360,000 homes and businesses were without electricity with another 100,000 outages expected by nightfall, Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board said, describing it as an unprecedented event that would effect every part of the country for days.

Around 170 flights from Ireland’s two main airports at Dublin and Shannon were canceled.

Two people were killed in separate incidents when trees fell on their cars — a woman in her 50s in the south east and a man on the east coast. Another man in his 30s died while trying to clear a fallen tree in an incident involving a chainsaw.

The storm, downgraded from a hurricane overnight, was the worst to hit Ireland in half a century. It made landfall after 10:40 a.m. (0940 GMT), the Irish National Meteorological Service said, with winds as strong as 190 kph (110 mph) hitting the most southerly tip of the country. Coastal flooding was likely.

“This storm is still very active and there are still very dangerous conditions in parts of the country. Do not be lulled into thinking this has passed,” the chairman of Ireland’s National Emergency Coordination Group, Sean Hogan, told national broadcaster RTE.

The Galway Atlantaquaria National Aquarium of Ireland building is seen submerged in floodwater during Storm Ophelia in Galway, Ireland October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The Galway Atlantaquaria National Aquarium of Ireland building is seen submerged in floodwater during Storm Ophelia in Galway, Ireland October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The armed forces were sent to bolster flood defenses, public transport services and hospitals were closed and schools across Ireland and Northern Ireland will remain shut for a second day on Tuesday.

Hundreds of roads were blocked by fallen trees, Hogan said. Photos on social media showed roofs flying off buildings, including at Cork City soccer club’s Turner’s Cross stadium where the roof of one stand had collapsed.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar advised people to stay indoors. The transport minister said it was not safe to drive.

The storm winds were due to peak between 1600 GMT and 1800 GMT in Dublin and Galway, two of Ireland’s most populous cities, and later on Monday in northern areas.

Britain’s meteorological service put an Amber Weather Warning into effect for Northern Ireland from 1400-2100 GMT, saying the storm posed a danger to life and was likely to cause transport cancellations, power cuts and flying debris.

It is expected to move towards western Scotland overnight and “impactful weather” is expected in other western and northern parts of the United Kingdom, it said.

British media are comparing Ophelia to the “Great Storm” of 1987, which subjected parts of the United Kingdom to hurricane strength winds 30 years ago to the day.

The Irish government said the storm was likely to be the worst since Hurricane Debbie, which killed 11 in Ireland in 1961.

It passed close to a western Ireland golf course owned by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been planning a wall to protect its greens from coastal erosion.

Similar storms in the past have changed the shape of stretches of the Irish coastline, climatologists said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Death toll from worst Vietnam floods in years rises to 54

Death toll from worst Vietnam floods in years rises to 54

HANOI (Reuters) – At least 54 people died and 39 went missing as destructive floods battered northern and central Vietnam this week, the disaster prevention agency said on Friday.

Vietnam is prone to destructive storms and flooding due to its long coastline. A typhoon wrecked havoc across central provinces just last month.

The floods that hit Vietnam this week starting on Monday are the worst in years, state-run Vietnam Television quoted agriculture minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong as saying.

Nineteen people from four neighboring households in Hoa Binh were buried alive early on Thursday after a landslide struck around midnight on Wednesday, but only nine bodies have been found, the disaster agency said in a report.

Some 317 homes have collapsed in floods and landslides this week, while more than 34,000 other houses have been submerged or damaged.

More than 22,000 hectares (54,300 acres) of rice have also been damaged and around 180,000 animals killed or washed away.

Floods have also affected seven of 77 provinces in Thailand, Vietnam’s neighbor to the west, that country’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said on Thursday.

More than 480,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of agricultural land Thailand have been hit, the department said.

A couple watches TV in their flooded house after a tropical depression in Hanoi, Vietnam October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

A couple watches TV in their flooded house after a tropical depression in Hanoi, Vietnam October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

(Reporting by Mi Nguyen; Editing by Tom Hogue)

In the mountains of Puerto Rico, hurricane recovery is slower

In the mountains of Puerto Rico, hurricane recovery is slower

By Hugh Bronstein

TRUJILLO ALTO, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – In the lowlands of Trujillo Alto, a sprawling suburb of San Juan, clean water once again flows in the homes of most residents. But in the mountainous part of the city, which is largely poor and semi-rural, finding clean water remains a daily struggle.

Across Puerto Rico, officials say, altitude matters. While workers are making steady progress restoring power and running water to coastal regions, where the territory’s largest cities are located, the mountainous regions at the island’s center are proving challenging.

“Are people in the mountains in a worse situation than urban people? Of course,” said Puerto Rico’s minister of public policy, Ramon Rosario, “because they are more distant from the power generators on the coasts.” Without electricity, he noted, the pumps that carry water up into the mountains can’t operate or must rely on generators.

A mix of Puerto Ricans live in the “Cordillera Central,” or central range of Puerto Rico, which is far more sparsely populated than coastal regions. Many residents are poor, living in rural, agrarian-based communities. But the region also has wealthy residents seeking the cooler temperatures and beauty of the cordillera.

In Trujillo Alto, a community of 85,000 that sits partly on flat land but also extends into the mountains, hurricane recovery varies sharply by altitude.

Lydia Perez Molina, 72, still relies on government-provided food and water in her mountain-top home, where she weathered hours of howling winds and hammer-blow rains during the Sept. 20 storm.

“Water came in through the window and the wind was like a monster,” Perez Molina said.

Now, she said, tears welling up in her eyes, her son spends his time “searching and struggling to bring us what we need. He’s standing in line for water at one place and for food at another.”

Debris is seen outside a home damaged by Hurricane Maria is seen in the Trujillo Alto municipality outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Debris is seen outside a home damaged by Hurricane Maria is seen in the Trujillo Alto municipality outside San Juan, Puerto Rico, October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

On Monday, Lourdes Zayas, president of the Trujillo Alto town council, gathered with dozens of other volunteers in the municipality’s basketball gym to put together care packages of rice, beans, milk and other basic foods that are trucked out several times a day to hard-hit parts of town.

“We can keep supplying food and drinking water as long as we need to,” Zayas said. “As for the electricity, who knows.”

Trujillo Alto Mayor Jose Luis Cruz said 70 percent of the richer, low-lying parts of town now have steady supplies of water, but there is no electricity to pump water up to the poorer parts of the municipality.

Moving heavy trucks and machinery into mountain areas to clear hazards and restore electrical lines is proving difficult, too, said a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers, who was deployed to Puerto Rico to work on restoring the electrical grid.

He said he was sent to Florida after Hurricane Irma to work on restoring power, but that the two situations were starkly different.

“Irma was a repair job,” he said, asking that his name not be used as he was not authorized to speak to the press. “This is a rebuild.”

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Sue Horton)