Heat wave in Greece claims more tourist lives

Heat wave in Greece claims more tourist lives
Heat wave in Greece claims more tourist lives

Record-breaking temperatures in Greece have led to the deaths of six tourists from heat-related incidents. Authorities urge caution as the heat wave continues to pose serious risks.

On Monday, the remains of a German hiker were found on the Greek island of Crete. His body was in a ravine, in an inaccessible area near Sentoni beach in the western Chania region.

The 67-year-old had been vacationing with his wife on the Mediterranean island when he decided to take a hike from the Omalos plateau to the fishing village of Sougia on the southern coast. The trail is about 24.5 kilometers (12.5 miles) long and normally takes some eight hours to complete. It’s not particularly difficult, as long as one is well-prepared and the weather is good.

Neither seem to have been the case in this instance.

It’s suspected the hiker lost his bearings in the heat and took a wrong turn on a path heading to Trypiti Gorge. The hiker had reportedly called his wife to say he wasn’t feeling well. After she didn’t hear from him again on Sunday, she reported him as missing, upon which a search-and-rescue operation was immediately launched.

Emergency rescuers and firefighters searched for several hours before locating the man’s body with the help of his mobile phone signal.

The German tourist marks the sixth hiker found dead in Greece this month alone. At least three other tourists, a retired US police officer, 59, on the island of Amorgos, and two French women, 64 and 73, on the island of Sikinos, are still missing.

Record-breaking temperatures

The numbers are unprecedented in Greece. Ordinarily, June is the coolest summer month in the archipelago, which is why so many older tourists prefer to travel there during this time.

But this June, the heat has been so extreme that it’s set to be the warmest June ever recorded in Greece. On Samos, where one hiker died, temperatures climbed above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). The Chania district, where the German hiker died, even recorded 44.5 degrees Celsius.

Christos Giannaros, principal investigator at Athens’ heat-related health warning system Heat Alarm, said the victims likely suffered from heat stress due to the unusually high temperatures and the physical exertion of hiking.

Age also plays a factor in vulnerability to extreme heat. “Older people store heat in their bodies more easily and have a harder time channeling it off. That’s why they’re more susceptible to symptoms of heat stroke,” Giannaros explained. When suffering a heatstroke, victims tend to lose their sense of time, as well as their sense of direction, which can put them at greater risk.

Most victims also hailed from countries with cooler climates and had rushed into the Mediterranean climate without allowing their bodies time to acclimatize. But doctors say even locals require time to adjust to higher temperatures.

Search-and-rescue operations for missing hikers have been extensive

Normally, the human body has enough time between spring and summer to gradually grow accustomed to warmer days and nights. But when heat waves arrive so suddenly and forcefully, they can become a public health hazard.

Dangerous carelessness

Despite this risk, many tourists often throw caution to the wind, ignoring public warnings and venturing out into the sweltering heat — more often than not, ill-prepared. When authorities in Athens recently shut down the Acropolis during the hottest hours of the day to protect visitors, many were outraged.

Many hikers also weren’t prepared for their treks. Greek media reported that several didn’t even know how long, or how steep, the path was that they had chosen, while others started their trek directly after lunch, with a full belly and alcohol in their system, under the midday sun.

Still others set out alone, without bringing their phones. Some of those who did bring their phones, however, were surprised to find the area they were in did not have coverage, and got lost after being unable to refresh the navigating app on their phone.

Authorities shut down the Acropolis for several days during the hottest afternoon hours, to prevent visitors from collapsing

The death of British doctor and popular BBC television presenter Michael Mosley on June 9 led to a massive outpouring of public sympathy. While vacationing on the Greek island of Symi, the 67-year-old set out alone to walk from Saint Nicholas Beach to the nearby village of Pedi.

When he disappeared, he was only carrying a small bottle of water, and was without his phone. Authorities later determined he had taken a wrong turn and then collapsed in a hard-to-reach area.

Police, firefighters, civil protection and volunteers were involved in an extensive search, engaging the aid of tracking dogs, drones and even helicopters. In the end, he was found dead near a popular local beach, concealed by a high wall.

Two Israeli hikers who got lost in the Mainalo mountain range in central Peloponnese did not meet such an unfortunate end. Following a search-and-rescue operation, they were found far away from their planned destination — but in good health.

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