ATHENS — Greek authorities launched a large search and rescue operation Friday following a distress call from a vessel carrying dozens of migrants, which was caught in a powerful storm that lashed western Greece with hurricane-force winds and heavy rain, causing power outages and flooding.
Coast guard officials said at least three merchant ships reached the area where the vessel, believed to be carrying more than 50 people, was reported in trouble off the southwest Peloponnese region but had not found any trace of it by late afternoon.
Coast guard vessels and rescue helicopters were unable to join the operation due to the high winds from the powerful tropical-style storm named Ianos.
The storm battered the western islands of Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Lefkada and Ithaki overnight, causing flash flooding, property damage, power outages, and road closures mostly from downed trees, while several docked yachts were sunk in harbors, police and local authorities said.
No injuries were reported.
The storm, with winds exceeding 110 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour), reached the western mainland Friday. Computer models suggested that the storm would not directly affect Athens but heavy rainfall was expected in the Greek capital from late Friday.
Parts of central Greece were also struck by the storm, with homes evacuated and several motorists reported stuck in their cars on flooded roads. Schools and stores were closed, and ferry services were suspended in many areas in western Greece as authorities advised residents to remain indoors. "We are expecting the storm to progress with the same intensity for the six to nine hours in western Greece and then, weakened, see it head southward,” Civil Protection chief Nikos Hardalias said. “But areas that are not directly affected … will see a large volume of water with heavy rainfall.”
Ryanair flight aborts landing at Kefalonia airport
Ryanair airlines flight FR6611 from the United Kingdom to Kefalonia could not land at the island's international airport on Thursday because of gale-force winds, as the Medicane "Ianos" is expected to slam into western Greece.
The Ionian Islands andd western Greece are on high alert for Ianos, which is expected to make its way eastwards to Attica by midday Friday.
The aircraft tried several approaches but failed, and flew to the nearby Lefkas island. It finally touched down at 20:45 in Athens, at the International Airport "Eleftherios Venizelos".
Electricity problems, fallen trees and sunken boats left by Medicane Ianos on Cephalonia
The Medicane Ianos left major damages to the island of Cephalonia in its wake, after making landfall during the night on the islands of the Ionian Sea. Electricity was cut in many parts of the island as many electricity pylons were broken by the strong winds. There were also problems with the road network due to fallen trees and branches blocking the roads.
The biggest problem was in the area of Aghia Efimia, municipality of Sami, where the heavy rainfall combined with gale force winds created muddy torrents filled with debris.
In the same area, winds reaching 11 on the Beaufort scale swept away and threw three sailing boats ashore, while at least four vessels have sunk inside the port.
Power supply restored at Zakynthos, problems persist at Ithaca, Kefalonia
Electricity has been restored in the main town of Zakynthos and its suburbs, as well as in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the island, the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator (HEDNO SA) said on Friday.
At the islands of Kefalonia and Ithaca, however, repair crews have identified damage in parts of the power distribution network, but the adverse weather conditions due to Medicane Ianos there are delaying repairs, added HEDNO.