ATHENS – An Irish woman whose husband of four days was killed on their honeymoon in the seaside Greek village of Mati as wildfires burned out of control in July, 2018 will testify in the trial of 21 defendants, including former state and fire officials.
Zoe Holohan and her husband Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp were caught up in the conflagration that spread after the then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA government was accused by people there and families of survivors of the blaze that killed 104 people of ineptitude and failing to warn villagers.
She said her husband saved four children as everyone tried to run from the rampaging flames and that they jumped into a passing car but there wasn’t enough room so he got into the trunk, only to fall out into the flames when a burning tree branch fell on the car.
She got to a nearby beach but was burned badly and had to undergo extensive plastic surgery, describing the horror about which she will tell the court but told Independent.Ie that as she’s not a Greek citizen that she couldn’t comment on the government’s failed role.
But she told the Irish news site that what she read about the chaos that engulfed the SYRIZA government and then-Premier Alexis Tsipras, with no warning system in place for cell phones then, made her “very angry.”
“But there are a lot of people who are very angry because lives have been taken, there have been life-changing injuries, homes have been destroyed and livelihoods – everything was nuked,” she said.
She said that she relives the tragedy every night and has constant nightmares about scenes that can’t be forgotten and that she is “filled with dread” about testifying in the trial that began in October, 2022 and is dragging on.
“I want to tell the truth as it happened on that horrific day,” she said, which came after she and husband had just been married and come to Greece for a honeymoon that would be his end and bring her so much pain.
THE REAL HEROES
No charges were filed against Tsipras or any high-ranking officials other than former regional Governor Rena Dourou, the then-premier saying only that he took “political responsibility,” but no blame for not having a disaster or warning plan.
Also being tried is a 65-year-old man accused of beginning the wildfires that swept over areas northeast of Athens when he was burning materials in his backyard on a windy day but he hasn’t been named.
In the dock as well are regional mayors and other officials as well as those in civil protection, the fire service and police officials who had officers mistakenly direct people into the fire, so much confusion that firefighting planes weren’t dispatched timely and no boats sent to rescue people taking cover in the sea.
Holohan said she was saved only because a heroic volunteer firefighter, Manos Tsaliagos – whom she hopes to see again in Athens – jumped through a wall of fire to rescue her.
She also hopes to be able to be reunited there with her plastic surgeon, Dr. Georgis Moutoglis. “He was the one who saved my life, my hand, my legs and who put my face back together. He is an absolute angel and the person I relied on to keep me alive,” she told the news site.
She said that every night, no matter how tired he was after his shift at the hospital, Moutoglis would come into her room to check if she was asleep, she said, adding: “I wouldn’t sleep until I saw him. You become childlike when you’re in that situation. He is an intensely kind man and I’ve kept in touch with him.”
She said she will give evidence in honor of her husband. “I want to remind people that Brian was a very important person to an awful lot of people. I don’t want him to be forgotten.”
She had come back in December 2019 to give her first testimony in the pre-trial and said that it was “ an extraordinarily cathartic moment for me,” and let her reveal just how heroic her husband was.
There was so much emotion in the court that everyone was overcome, including her translator, who wept as she told her: “There you go, it’s in writing – your husband was a hero. He carried those children to safety.”