ATHENS – Ripped by criticism his government wasn’t prepared to deal with disasters and with 93 people killed in July 23 wildfires, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has replaced Greece’s civil protection agency with a National Emergency Management Service.
The new agency, which will be under the direct authority of the Interior Ministry, will coordinate all services research institutes and voluntary teams involved in the management of emergencies.
There was reported confusion in the response to the fires, with no evacuation or disaster plan, fire and police departments not talking to each other, no real central command center, a key helicopter grounded when it ran out of fuel and police mistakenly directed traffic directly into the path of an inferno which destroyed the seaside village of Mati northeast of Athens.
The director will be advised by a scientific council comprising members of research institutes and other agencies involved in the field of natural disasters, Tsipras said, and the agency will call on the fire and police departments, ambulance service, Hellenic Red Cross, Coast Guard, military, forestry service as well as research institutes and volunteer groups.
The service will have a budget of 500 million euros ($573.4 million), funded by the European Investment Bank, the European Union-subsidized National Strategic Reference Framework, as well as Greece’s public investment program, he said.
While inviting rival parties to support his plan, he nonetheless took another shot at major rival New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis who had blistered the government for the debacle of a response to the fires and called for snap polls with elections required to be held by October of next year.
Describing the deadly wildfires in eastern Attica as “an unspeakable tragedy,” Tsipras said the most important thing is that such a disaster is never again repeated, not “elections over the cinders.”