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Greek Geologist Says Overbuilding Caused Deadly Floods

November 20, 2017

ATHENS – Another geologist said that floods west of Greece’s capital city was caused by overbuilding, much of it believed unlawful but allowed for years by successive governments who only made violators pay fees so the country could gain money.

Twenty people died in the floodings caused by heavy rains in a region where there have been previous disasters that governments keep saying they’ll fix and stop but don’t. Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader said his Administration will look into it.

As emergency services recovered the bodies of another three victims, environmental experts have warned of the perils of unchecked construction and inadequate infrastructure.

Even though the rain was unusually heavy – the country’s weather service blamed climate change but didn’t say why other regions weren’t as severely affected – excessive construction was the key reason for the scale of the disaster, Michalis Diakakis, a researcher in the Department of Geology and Geoenvironment at the University of Athens told Kathimerini.

“It is self-evident that the streams (in the area) should have been kept open and not blocked from flowing out to sea,” Diakakis said, referring to the town of Mandra, which was the hardest hit by the flooding. Greece has allowed waterways to be covered over for more building without concern for the environmental effect, researchers have said repeatedly.

Residents of Mandra who saw their homes damaged in floods in 2015 told the paper they took remedial action by building higher walls around their homes but it didn’t work in most cases.

Athens Univ. Prof. Dimitris Papanikolaou disputed assertions by the country’s weather service that said the rainfall that caused the flooding could be due to climate change, without explaining why there weren’t floods elsewhere in Greece then. Fifteen people died in the flooding.

He said that, “nature had previously issued a warning over today’s tragedy,” and that a postgraduate course he teaches focused on the devastated area because there had been similar disasters there before, the state-run Athens News Agency reported.

He said that, “The primary exercise on flooding was the Mandra region, which we chose as one of several characteristic cases where human intervention and ignorance or indifference, or in any case, a lack of knowledge and not seriously dealing with the issue was criminal, because the old Athens-Thebes highway passes through the Mandra area, and next to this road … there was a mountainous region … several kilometers north of Mandra, with a network of small creeks that converge to create a bigger stream, which has been filled in over a length of 500 meters.”

Papanikolaou said construction at the narrowest part of the one-time gully included a bus depot built by the municipality and a supermarket, which essentially cut off the course of storm runoff towards the gulf, a few kilometers to the south.

“The tragedy is that in 1996 we had another two (flooding) victims, in the exact same upstream site, one or two kilometers from the point where the (runoff) passage had choked off,” he added.
Antonis Lalos, head of the Hellenic National Meteorological Service (EMY), was quoted by local media as saying that although November is one of the wettest months in Greece “certain characteristics, however, such as the intensity (of precipitation), allow us to link the (weather) phenomena with climate change.”

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