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Cyclone Ianos, a Rare 'Medicane,' Batters Ionian Islands of Greece

2020-09-18 14:14:15
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A rare, powerful cyclone slammed into the western Ionian Islands of Greece and other parts of the country on Friday, bringing lashing rain, strong winds and flooding as it tore into the coastline.

Such storms — which some meteorologists call Medicanes, or Mediterranean hurricanes — were virtually unheard-of before the 1990s, but in recent years have become a more regular occurrence because of rising sea temperatures.

Greece issued its highest-level weather alert with the landfall of the hurricane-strength storm, which is known locally as Ianos and elsewhere in the region as Cassilda. Local authorities advised the islands’ residents, and tourists trapped there because of the cyclone, to remain indoors as the storm brought winds of at least 75 miles per hour.

Videos posted to social media from the Greek islands show rough seas battering normally idyllic beaches and trees bending with the force of the wind as rain pummels the landscape.

On Zakynthos, one local described power outages across much of the island as dawn broke on Friday morning.

On Kefalonia, locals reported downed trees and debris cast about by the storm, as well as damage to some homes and coastal flooding. Video posted from the island showed strong waves surging past a harbor wall and dozens of boats capsized by the storm. Others showed extensive beach erosion and damage to cars and vehicles, including the clip below from Tayo Kopfer, a graphic designer who lives in London and was visiting the island with her family for the past month.

“The weather has been really bad all day, the house is flooded and there is no power,” she said in a message. “We went for a drive this afternoon to have a look at the nearest beach and found we are temporarily stuck on this section of the island because the road is flooded.”

Ms. Kopfer described major erosion at Jerusalem beach, on the northern tip of the island. “The entire beach has been eroded, the local taverna is completely flooded and the water was causing huge damage,” she said.

“Everyone seems safe, but it’s really sad to see all the damage to the island and people’s businesses,” she said, adding that it was rainwater funneling onto the beach from high ground rather than a surge from the sea that caused the most damage.

Officials on Kefalonia urged residents and tourists to stay indoors on Friday.

The Hellenic National Meteorological Service warned of heavy rainfall and gale-force winds across the area, with the worst of the storm expected to be felt before noon on Friday.

Nikos Hardalias, the Greek deputy minister of civil protection, told state television that the islands of Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos had been hit by the worst of the weather overnight and that there were power outages on all three islands.

“It was a difficult night for the Ionian Islands as the intense weather phenomena are in full swing,” he said.

Because they do not originate in the tropics, Mediterranean-formed cyclones like Ianos are not called tropical storms or hurricanes, but their wind strength makes them comparable.

Some experts say that the uptick in such storms could be linked to climate change, because as the world warms and sea temperatures rise, the warmer water provides more of the energy that fuels the cyclones.

As of Friday morning, there were no deaths or serious injuries reported as a result of the storm, but the full extent of the damage was still being assessed.

The cyclone is not expected to affect Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, where Greece’s biggest migrant reception centers are.

But on Friday afternoon, a boat with around 55 migrants was reportedly in trouble off the coast of Kyparissia, in southwestern Greece, a shipping ministry official said. The Greek coast guard received a distress call from the boat on an emergency number on Friday morning, but its vessels were unable to approach the boat amid gale-force winds.

Ships sailing nearby were called upon to assist, the official said.

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.


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