ATHENS – Ripped for its failure to have evacuation or disaster plans in place before July 23 wildfires in seaside villages outside Athens led to the deaths of 96 people, burned, asphyxiated or who drowned in the seas waiting for help, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition is having a senior German scientist lead an independent inquiry.
Johann Goldammer, who heads the Global Fire Monitoring Center at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Aug. 23 as a bevy of lawsuits against the government and at least two private investigations so far blamed state officials for a confused, near-chaotic failure to respond properly.
The fire, some 50 or 60 feet high and driven by gale-force winds, consumed much of the village of Mati on the sea about 25 miles northeast of the Capital, many victims trapped in their cars after police misdirected them into the path of the inferno.
The government has approved emergency aid for families and people to rebuild and said it would tear down unlawful construction such as those in Mati that drove the death toll higher, blocking access to the sea.
Infrastructure Minister Christos Spirtzis and major rival New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis separately visited the village on Aug. 24 as government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said 4,328 appeals for relief were made but so far only 1,710 have received aid.
Interior Minister Panos Skourletis, who took on the job of citizen’s protection after Nikos Toskas quit after his claims there were “no operational failures” despite massive evidence there were, approved the release of 4.5 million euros ($5.2 million) for municipalities of Marathon and Rafina, an area including Mati.
Spirtzis visited Mati to inspect the progress of works being carried out to restore the area, including the demolition of buildings and removal of toxic materials from the area.
That came a few hours after Mitsotakis went there a second time: Tsipras went once with a hand-picked state TV camera crew and barred reporters from coming so they couldn’t get near him and ask questions.
Mitsotakis met with residents two days after receiving a delegation of them as well as from the nearby town of Neos Voutzas that was also overrun by the fires, with no cause having been established yet, with reports it was both arson or sparked by someone burning debris on nearby Mt. Penteli.
Noting that the “sorrow, anger and exasperation” sparked by the fires remained acute, Mitsotakis pledged that “those responsible will be held accountable,” said Kathimerini.
He said that, “Certain people are to blame for the fact that 96 people died and hundreds, if not thousands, of people lost their properties,” in the disaster.