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Society

Burned by Wildfires, Greek Island Evia Braces for Flood Fears

ATHENS — With nearly half of Greece's second-largest island of Evia devastated by wildfires this summer in a record heat wave, teams of workers are still clearing debris with residents worrying the left over erosion won't stop flooding.

In a feature, the Reuters news agency reported on the scramble to prepare and set up wooden flood barriers on the island, about 62 miles northeast of Athens, which took a big hit to tourism a year after COVID-19 lockdowns shut it down. 

With autumn rains looming, villagers and others are trying to prepare defenses to deal with the flood threat, worsened by the loss of absorbing greenery and soil vegetation that was scorched to ashes.

The worry is that heavy or even moderate rains, without the backstop of vegetation, will flow toward coastal villages trying to recoup from the summer's damage and flood them.

“This is dangerous. If rains start now and go on for 15 or 20 days then all the rivers will overflow,” worker Giorgos Diakomopoulos told Reuters as he took a break from helping out the effort.

Some 300,000 acres of forest and bushland were burnt in different parts of Greece this past summer, amid the country’s worst heatwave in 30 years, the report noted, adding that more than a third, 115,106 acres, was on nothern Evia,

citing data from Beyond, a research centre of the National Observatory of Athens

In the coastal village of Limni, where much of its population of 1,500 had to evacuate at night by boat with the backdrop of blazes chewing trees and flames licking the sky, the attention has turned to the threat of rain, if it comes.

“We have to make it in time for the winter. We did not have to mourn any victims during the wildfires, and it is very important that we don’t have that problem with the floods,” said Mayor George Tsapourniotis.

While the smell of soot and ash lingers two months after the fires, and there is the eerie reminder of what happened with burned down forests, there are also signs of nature recovering, and green shoots showing.

But those who lost businesses such as beekeeping, logging and tapping trees 

for resign now have to think about floods as they try to resurrect their livelihoods, as the pandemic lingers.

Evia had an annual output of 6,000 ton of resin, a crystallized sap extracted from the trunk of pine trees and used to make durable casting and flooring. This was about 85 percent of the country’s total output, said the report.

With most of the pine trees gutted by the fires, a year’s crop and a large part of the country’s production has now gone.

“If we take into account cottage industries, a factory and all the other sectors destroyed by the fire, there are no jobs left in northern Evia anymore,” said Vangelis Georgatzis, who heads the island’s resin collectors union.

Yiannis Georgiou, a 40-year-old resin collector, has lost all his crop. “I ‘ve been really thinking of leaving. What can I do?”

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