ATHENS – Despite deploying most of its arsenal of firefighters and equipment to battle hundreds of blazes across the country, Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized “for any weaknesses” in responses by overwhelmed forces.
Some residents had taken to calling TV stations to beg for water-dumping planes and helicopters on Evia, the country's second biggest island at 1,417 square miles, about 111 kilometers (69 miles) north of the capital Athens.
Exhausted crews were joined by those sent from 22 other countries, as well as more equipment, as the fires blamed on a brutal heatwave, arson, failure to clear forests and unlawful dumping roared on past a week on Aug. 10.
Thousands of people had to be rescued, most on Evia where they were taken off in a ferry boat as they watched the island and homes burn against a night sky, flames erupting high into the night air on hill tops and across forests.
“I completely understand the pain of our fellow citizens who saw their homes or property burning,” he said in a televised message, noting that the first priority was “to save lives.”
“It is obvious that the climate crisis is affecting the whole planet. With fires that last for days. That is the explanation, but not an excuse, or an alibi. We may have done everything that was humanly possible, but in many cases this did not seem to be enough in the unequal battle with nature,” he added.
He promised any failures in Greece’s firefighting response will be identified, those responsible will be held accountable and people whose property was destroyed will be compensated, the New Democracy government putting together a 500-million euro ($586.52 million) relief package.
He said 63 evacuations were conducted while 586 fires broke out all around the country, which were made worse by the continuing heatwave – during the COVID-19 pandemic and as more tourists descended on the country.
The apology wasn't enough for the major opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance party which said hit TV appearance was “provocative” and that he was “unrepentant,” in tone.
“Mitsotakis only apologized because his communication experts asked him to, but nobody understood why, since he himself doesn’t believe it” the party said, referring to the apology.
“In the midst of a continuing tragedy the premier talked only about himself and his supposed successes, including the pandemic. Nothing was said about the collapse of the so-called executive state in the latest fires,” said SYRIZA.
The Leftists didn't mention that while in power that their government was blamed for a shambolic response to July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 102 peope and nearly wiped out the seaside village of Mati northeast of Athens.
Party leader and then-Premier Alexis Tsipras said at the time that he took only “political responsibility” but no blame as a continuing investigation is looking into a cover-up attempt by fire brigade officials and a number of officials, including from SYRIZA then in the government, face prosecution.