Greeks in mourning and disbelief after flood that killed at least 15

MANDRA, Greece, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Greeks voiced despair and disbelief on Thursday after a flash flood killed at least 15 people and left hundreds homeless, with many blaming a system that allowed houses to be built on dried up river beds.

In the towns of Nea Peramos and Mandra west of the capital Athens, crumpled cars and mangled furniture lay on roads coated in the thick mud left behind by a raging torrent that smashed through homes on Wednesday morning.

"We are ruined. My tavern and my house are gone," said Paraskevas Stamou, a restaurant owner in Mandra. "Everything is gone, the road is gone, the water is still flowing and we were flooded again last night and this morning.

"We are expecting another downpour tonight. It's like God hates us," he told Reuters.

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Deadly flash floods sweep across Greece
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Deadly flash floods sweep across Greece
A local gestures as he stands next to a muddy street, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Locals wear plastic bags to protect from mud as they walk next to destroyed cars, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A destroyed car is stuck at the entrance of a house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Volunteers are seen on the back of a pickup truck following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A destroyed car is seen on the street following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A local shovels mud from the entrance of his shop, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A local gestures as he stands next to a muddy street, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
People walk past destroyed cars and shops, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Destroyed cars and debris are piled up among houses, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A poster depicting a leader of Greek conservative New Democracy party Kyriakos Mitsotakis is seen on the wall as mud covers the floor of the party's local office, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Locals wear plastic bags to protect from mud as they walk next to destroyed cars, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Mud covers the floor of the local offices of Greek conservative New Democracy party, as portraits of all leaders of the party and a Greek national flag hang on the wall, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A man and his son look for the documents of their destroyed car, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A local looks on a blocked street behind debris following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A local holds bread as he stands outside a damaged entrance of his house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A woman reacts while driving past destroyed houses and shops, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A TV set and curtains are stuck on a destroyed window of a flooded house, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Locals walk among destroyed cars on a muddy street, following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Mandra, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A stop sign is seen on a destroyed road following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A worker holds a shovel next to a muddy road following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A part of a destroyed road following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
A Greek national flag flies at half mast as a period of national mourning is declared for the victims of flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Athens, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Maria Kriada is comforted outside her destroyed house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
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To escape the lethal floodwaters, residents took desperate measures.

"We had nowhere to sleep. We slept on the roof, we found carpets to cover ourselves," said a man in Mandra whose house was gutted by the flood but remained standing.

Between sobs, his mother added: "Everything went. We don't have anyone to help us. I don't have help from anyone."

Elderly people wandered the streets in muddied clothing, looking bewildered.

"What I am concerned about is the indifference - there was no one there by our side to say, 'take courage'. I didn't want anything else, nothing," said Mandra resident Maria Kriada.

"Did anyone ask me if I had any water to drink? If I had any food to eat? If I had somewhere to sleep? No one came to say this."

Bad weather continued on Thursday. Officials said they were waiting for conditions to improve before giving a clearer picture of the damage. Five people were still missing.

Flags flew at half-mast from state buildings and the Acropolis on Thursday as the government declared three days of national mourning.

Newspapers expressed anger. "A Crime," was the headline in Ta Nea daily, superimposed on a picture of a woman being comforted next to an overturned car. "The Deeds of Man," wrote the leftist Avgi, referring to unlicensed constructions.

Experts blamed haphazard construction which the natural path for water runoff obstructed, and soil erosion on a mountain range hit by fires.

Both towns were built along an old motorway linking Athens to the Peloponnese city of Corinth. As building crept closer to the road, streams that would have drained runoff from the nearby Pateras mountains were blocked.

"Of course the state wasn't prepared ... we cannot compete with nature," said Christos Zeferos, head of the research center for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology Academy of Athens, adding that climate change meant people should expect more weather-related disasters.

"We should be prepared for more frequent, and different phenomena," he told Reuters.

Many of the victims were elderly. The youngest was a 36-year old truck driver who called his mother as the floodwaters rose around his lorry. The line went dead soon afterwards.

(Additional reporting By Michele Kambas, Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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