ATHENS – With survivors and others still trying to deal with grief over the Greek wildfires that killed at least 85 people – with dozens missing and relatives being asked to provide DNA samples to try to identify more – fury is being vented at the government after reports the fires may have been set and there was no disaster or evacuation plan.
Desperate relatives appeared on TV asking for help in finding loved ones while other residents of the town of Mati, a seaside area north of Athens where 98 percent of the homes were destroyed, asked why authorities had been unable to prevent so many of their neighbors from getting trapped by a wall of flame in streets with no exit route, Reuters said in a report on the aftermath.
“This shouldn’t have happened. People perished for no reason,” a tearful woman shouted at Defense Minister Panos Kammenos as he visited Mati and nearby fire-ravaged areas. “You left us at God’s mercy!”
A team of geologists from the University of Athens said the town was essentially a death trap of poor urban planning while the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition was trying to defend itself and saying it was not to blame.
Fires are frequently set in Greece, especially in the summer as developers try to clear forest land so they can build on it later with no law preventing them from doing so.
One woman was looking for her brother, who had been returning from work when the flames took hold. “My father was the last person to talk to him on Monday evening,” (July 23, the night of the fire) Katerina Hamilothori told SKAI TV. “We have had no news at all.”
Local officials said high and unpredictable winds would have rendered even the best-executed evacuation plan futile, though firefighters told Reuters that some water hydrants in the area were empty.
Some 1000 homes were lost and search teams were going through the burned ruins looking for other victims.
The SYRIZA-led coalition, which includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) led by Kammenos, said it would provide compensation for the families of victims and survivors and temporarily suspend home foreclosures in devastated areas.
The government also said there would be other relief measures, including a one-time 10,000 euro ($11,625) and a job in the public sector for victims’ spouses and close relatives but that didn’t dull the growing rage.
“A drop in the ocean,” read the front page of newspaper Ta Nea.
Firefighters said fast-moving winds and the thick covering of pine trees combined to make even a rapid response unlikely to contain the flames and that many people panicked trying to get away “The main factor was the wind, its speed and its direction. It should have been looked at earlier,” World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Greece Director Dimitris Karavellas told Reuters.
“These people should have been ordered out of this area … This is the only thing that could have saved them.