ATHENS | Western Greece was hit on Friday by a Mediterranean hurricane or “medicane”, a rare meteorological phenomenon, accompanied by torrential rains and violent gusts, which is expected in the Athens region overnight.
Floods, power cuts, tree falls: from Zakynthos to Kefalonia, via Corfu, the paradisiacal islands of the Ionian Sea, between Italy and Greece, were not spared early Friday morning.
“Trees are falling everywhere,” Ionian Islands prefect Rodi Kratsa told ERT public television.
A boat carrying 55 migrants sent a distress message off the coast of the Peloponnese in the west of the country, the Greek coastguard reported in the morning.
“For the first time, we are not able to send a vessel to help him,” a spokeswoman for the coast guard told AFP. But other boats in the vicinity were warned and “approached the boat to help it”, she added without further clarification at the end of the afternoon.
The hurricane, dubbed Ianos, “is expected to hit the west [of Greece] with the same intensity” and hit the Peloponnese peninsula on Friday evening, then “start to move south,” Kratsa added. He is expected in the region of Attica which includes Athens, at night.
The Athens National Observatory predicted “another 36 hours” difficult this morning.
However, it appears that “Cyclone Ianos is less severe than expected, although still ongoing,” Efthymios Lekkas, professor of natural disaster management at the University of Athens, told AFP.
It will be “considerably weakened” by reaching the Athens region from midnight, he added.
As a precaution, more than 800 migrants living in three camps near Athens must be moved, according to the Migration Ministry.
The 778 asylum seekers from Elaionas, Malakasa and Schisto camps were to be transferred to a conference room in Athens, while 28 minors from Skaramanas camp will be temporarily relocated to a hotel, a ministry statement said on Friday morning.
Cyclones more frequent “than before”
Two Ryanair flights scheduled to land on the island of Kefalonia had to be rerouted to Athens, and sea connections to and to the island were cut off.
The islands of Ithaca and Zante also experienced power cuts and part of their roads were cut off to traffic, while Corfu and Lefkada were also affected, to a lesser extent, by bad weather.
A Swiss pleasure boat moored in Ithaca was washed away by the waves, but its two passengers were able to regain the coast, according to the Greek news agency ANA. Another boat sank in the port of Zante, but its passengers – Belgians – are safe and sound, Ms. Kratsa said.
Greek civil protection called for postponing all non-essential travel in the region and avoiding standing in cellars or basements, which are more prone to flooding.
Professor Lekkas said that cyclones were “relatively rare in the region, the Mediterranean Sea is not as wide as the Atlantic and the climate does not favor them”.
“However, in the last three years, since 2017, three cyclones have appeared, at a significantly faster rate than before”, explained the expert who wonders “if it is due to climate change”. “We can't say for sure, even if it sounds like it.”
Greece has already experienced a hurricane in 2018, which killed two people on the island of Evia.
In 2017, floods killed more than 20 people west of Athens in some of the most severe weather in recent Greek history.