Survivors of Deadly Greek Wildfires Find Coping Hard, Health Hazard Warnings

FILE - A local resident walks in front of a burnt house in Mati, east of Athens, Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – People who survived the July 23 wildfires that killed 91 people in Greece, some living because they treaded water in the sea waiting for help, are finding it difficult to adjusts in the aftermath of the horror that consumed the seaside villa of Mati and other areas.

As residents return to what’s left of the coastal settlements, including Neos Voutzas, many have lost among their belongings their state health insurance booklets and the elderly especially confused and needing psychological help, Kathimerini said it had learned.

That comes as health experts warn of public health risks from toxic ash in the affected areas of the massive inferno that, for deaths per land size, was the worst in Greek history and in Europe since 1900.

“The people coming to us are very emotional and confused,” Alexandra Michailidou of Doctors of the World, which has a mobile unit in Rafina, an area also struck by the fires told the paper.

Also hit hard by the sight of bodies burned beyond recognition, sometimes to near-ashes, were police officers asked to help aid in identifying the victims with 10 seeking sessions with a specialized psychologist, the paper said.

No cause has been given although arson was blamed along with the fire department saying the worst fire was caused by a person on Mt. Penteli burning material before it got out of hand, refusing to give a name.

The Environment Ministry issued a guide for the collection of waste, calling for the different types of refuse – rubble, burnt trees, the remains of electric appliances etc – to be sorted and deposited in the various bins set out by municipal authorities.

Residents and volunteers taking part in the cleanup should wear protective gloves and surgical masks, experts said.

“Residents, workers and volunteers must be careful in the burnt areas as toxic compounds have entered the soil,” Nikos Michalopoulos, the head of the Athens Observatory’s Institute for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development, told the paper, adding that remaining asbestos is a particular hazard.