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Greek Prosecutor Probes Response to Deadly Evia Island Floods

Αssociated Press

A car lays on the fence as a woman exits from the house in the village of Bourtzi, on Evia island, northeast of Athens, on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS - A prosecutor on the island of Evia, where eight people, including an eight-month-old baby people died in flash floods, ordered an investigation to determine whether anyone can be held responsible after no warning texts were sent to people's cell phones.

Two parallel investigations will be undertaken, said Kathimerini, one by the Fie Service looking for omissions and errors in the response, and another by a criminal judge to see if it was worsened by unlawful dams or structures, a common problem in Greece and the cause of deadly 2017 floods in Mandra.

The body of a 72-year-old man was found Aug. 10 in the sea area of Kalamos. The other victims were found in the areas of Politika, Bourtzi and Amfithea, the paper said.

The Fire Brigade evacuated 82 flood victims – 54 on the ground and 28 by helicopter – while another 15 people were evacuated by the Joint Search and Rescue Coordination Center.

Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Hardalias acknowledged no warning text messages were sent because it happened so fast and later said it would have been dangerous to have people leave their homes as waters rose.

That left the New Democracy government in the awkward position of defending itself after criticizing the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA's chaotic response to July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 102 people, and the Mandra floods.

“Everything happened very suddenly. It was very important that we were monitoring the phenomena from the beginning … we knew that in the wider area there would be a problem, of course with less data, but in any case the (civil defense) mechanism was not caught off guard,” Hardalias told journalists during a visit to the area.

“If (emergency number) 112 operated, we would have had hundreds of deaths. When you have a (developing) phenomenon you do not call for an evacuation. How could we have asked for an evacuation when the area outside is flooded?” he added.

Hardalias said the 112 emergency number was ready but it is “an operational tool that is not for every incident,” without explaining why a deadly flood wasn't an emergency incident and that people should have received the messages on their mobile phones.

The government had made a big show of putting the 112 number in operation and said it would be used for incidents such as the flood then said that it wasn't needed even though the rain storm that caused the flood was being tracked.

He said officials expected there would be 63 millimeters (2.48 inches) of rain in 24 hours – a prodigious amount – but that 350 millimeters (13.8 inches) fell instead, catching officials off guard although they were watching it develop.