ATHENS – With no TV camera, radio crews or reporters to follow him during a 24-hour media strike, Greek Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras made an unannounced visit to the seaside village of Mati outside Athens, the scene of a wildfire in July that killed 99 people.
Tsipras, who didn’t keep a promise to start razing unlawful structures across Attica after it was reported most of the buildings in Mati destroyed were illegal and had blocked escape access to the sea, led a meeting in the village with local authorities and residents.
That came as his government tabled a draft law setting terms to reconstruct the unlawful buildings to make them lawful. The haphazard construction among trees was blamed for keeping victims from being able to escape, a pattern across a wider swath of Athens that continues.
A number of lawsuits against the government for not having a disaster or evacuation plan have been filed by families of the victims with SYRIZA officials saying they were blameless for the deaths or the chaotic response to the fires.
In September, Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis, who injects himself into debates on issues outside his expertise, took a shot at natural disaster expert Costas Synolakis from the Technical University of Crete for saying that the seaside village of Mati, where 99 people died in a July 23 wildfire, could have been evacuated and saved.
On his Facebook page, Polakis – a surgeon who lit up a cigarette during a No Smoking Day news conference and speaks out provocatively in defending the government – said Synolakis should “clean up” a power pole outside his house from vines to avoid being electrocuted “in case of rain or fire,’ indirectly mocking the dead too. He gave the address although it wasn’t known whether that was Synokakis’ real address or how Polakis knew it.
The study, presented by Synolakis and five other experts, found that the 90 minutes between when the blaze started on Mount Penteli and when it reached Mati on the coast was long enough to evacuate the small town. Instead, in the chaos, drivers were directed into the village and many died, trapped in their cars on narrow, crowded streets as the fire and smoke covered them.’
The study, commissioned by the head of opposition New Democracy Kyriakos Mitsotakis, used simulation models developed by Japan’s Waseda University and the University of Oregon to back up its assertions.
Synolakis said authorities had underestimated the force of the initial blaze and the speed at which it was spreading and took too long to divert firefighters at a separate blaze in Kineta, west of Athens, to the Mati area northeast of the Capital.