Greek firefighters are continuing their search on the eastern coast of Athens, which has been hit by fires that have killed at least 81 people, including at least four foreign tourists. Critics are now voicing concern on the management of the disaster.
The human toll of these fires, the deadliest of the century after those of Australia in 2009, has risen to 81 dead, according to a spokesman of the firemen, Stavroula Maliri.
Among them is a young Irish groom, said the Irish Embassy in Greece. According to the British press, the couple, married last Thursday, were on their honeymoon when his car was caught in the flames. The wife, Zoe, was able to reach the beach, but she suffered burns in her head and hands.
So far, three other tourists have been identified among the victims: two Poles, a mother and her son, and a Belgian, whose teenage daughter has been saved. Eleven wounded remained in critical condition.
Firefighters continue to rake the area, looking for potential new victims. Given the state of the bodies, it is possible that “missing persons are among the victims discovered,” said Ms. Maliri.
The identification of the deceased should now accelerate: Ms. Maliri called in the evening relatives of the missing to go to the department of forensic medicine, for “information on the procedure.”
Authorities and volunteers are also organizing to help the victims, whether they have lost loved ones, their homes or their jobs, sometimes everything. A first inventory has already identified more than 300 homes and shops destroyed or seriously damaged.
To hear the testimonies, the fate of the inhabitants was often played face to face, the decision to flee or stay caulked, to go to the sea or in the opposite direction, to choose the road leading to the beach rather than at the edge of the sheer cliff.
“Many survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress,” said a health ministry official, Theophilos Rozenberg. The ministry has deployed psychological cells, but also health teams, while the supply of water and electricity remains disrupted.
At the gymnasium of Rafina, transformed into a relief center, the solidarity impulse set in motion on Tuesday brought food, medicine and clothing.
After the first shock, a controversy has begun on the management of this disaster.
The government, which declared a mourning for three days, announced Wednesday night a catalog of measures: compensation – for example $15 300 (10 000 euros) for the loss of a close relative, $7700 (5000 euros) for a destroyed house -, care of orphans, tax exemptions, until the catching up of points in the university competition for the victims.
Spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos also announced the creation of a special account open to donations, including foreign, in which the Greek state has already committed more than 61 million dollars (40 million euros) for the redevelopment of the area and other support actions.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras very quickly pointed out how “extreme” the phenomenon was, and Mr. Tzanakopoulos stressed the simultaneity on Monday of “15 fire starts on 3 different fronts” in Attica.
The opposition daily Ta Nea nonetheless criticizes “the government’s failure […] and failure to protect its citizens a few kilometers from Athens” and called for the wrongdoers.
The failures of prevention
Experts question the lack of prevention and awareness of the population, one of the chronic wounds of the country. “I saw the flames on Penteli Hill in front, but the staff did not seem to worry. We’ve been told it’s like this every year, but the fire never goes down to the sea, “said Debbie Vinzani, an American tourist on vacation to Mati.
“We did not have time” to start the evacuation plan because of the speed of the wind, pleaded a senior official of the Civil Protection at the daily Kathimerini . “We know very well that climate change is creating more and more extreme weather conditions,” which is another reason to prepare, said disaster expert Kostis Kalambokidis.
European Commissioner Chrístos Stylianídes, who is in charge of humanitarian aid, came on Tuesday night and also warned people of the climate change repercussions in Europe, noting that the wave of fires on the continent is affecting Sweden.
Mya Anders was born and raised in Harrisburg. Mya has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade having contributed to several large publications including the Yahoo News and the Times-Journal. As a journalist for Times Records, Mya covers national and international developments.