The fires came first. Then the floods.
In the small village of Sesklo in central Greece, 46-year-old Vasilis Tsiamitas has felt the extremes of both freak weather phenomena this summer, as Greece has become a climate change hotspot.
Storm Elias flooded his house, damaged his beach bar and swept away his car in September. That finished off what was left weeks earlier by Storm Daniel, Greece’s most intense on record, and a July wildfire that scorched his family’s almond grove.
“God only knows how I will get past this,” said Tsiamitas, standing outside his two-storey family house. The front door is off its hinges, propped up against a wall next to wooden boards soaked by floodwater.
“What else could hit me? It can’t get any worse,” he said.
Fierce storms and floods have become more frequent in recent years, while rising temperatures make summers hotter and drier, creating tinder-box conditions for wildfires.
Muddy roads and household furniture, stacked up outside to dry, in villages across the central mainland region of Thessaly are a constant reminder of the steps Greece needs to take as it adapts to climate change and seeks to mitigate the effects of such freak weather events.
Sesklo, a village of about 800 residents near the port city of Volos, and home to one of Europe’s oldest prehistoric settlements, has survived natural disasters through the centuries.
But its oldest residents, Tsiamitas says, have never experienced anything like this year’s devastation.
“It’s the first time that our village is tested so much,” said Tsiamitas, who is also the local community leader. “We have elderly people sitting at the village square who are 95 years old. They have never experienced such a thing before.”
The wildfire that broke out in July was burning uncontrolled for at least two days.
Sesklo residents were evacuated in time but the flames, fanned by strong winds, burned through farmland and groves, destroying approximately 70 percent of the village’s almond and olive oil production, said Tsiamitas.
“The weather conditions were so bad, the wind, there was no humidity that day, the fire was moving fast. There was not enough time to do anything,” he said.
In early September, Storm Daniel hit Thessaly after Greece’s longest heatwave in more than 30 years. It killed 16 people and turned the area into an inland sea, destroying homes, farms and wiping out swaths of crops.
Tsiamitas, whose beach bar flooded, said most Sesklo residents were not as badly affected as others in the wider region. But their feeling of relief was short-lived.
Weeks later, Elias, a less intense but unexpected storm, was the final straw.
Tsiamitas recounts that he had his youngest son in his arms when a raging torrent flung his front door open, forcing him to race upstairs where his in-laws live.
Since then, the water has subsided, revealing the devastation that villages like Sesklo suffered.
“We should learn our lesson,” Tsiamitas said, looking at stumps of burned almond trees. “We need to uproot them … we need to plant them again. Again and again, we need to start everything from scratch.”