ATHENS – Rejecting government claims it was blameless for wildfires that led to the deaths of at least 92 people, a University of Athens said residents of the village of Mati, which was 98 percent destroyed, didn’t receive a warning in time to get away and that there was no effective disaster or evacuation plan in place.
That came as officials of the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition, including the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) defended their response while admitting there were problems, although at least one said it wasn’t a tragedy not to have a plan in place.
But more than anything, the failure to give a timely warning about a fast-approaching fire that overwhelmed Mati like lava from a volcano caused the most deaths, the study said, because the residents were left “almost zero time between realizing the danger and reacting to it,” a preliminary inquiry claimed.
There reportedly weren’t mobile phone warnings, radio or TV announcements urging people to flee, no roving trucks with loudspeakers and some residents said police actually directed traffic into Mati and the occupants to death because there was no coordination on how to react.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, the ANEL leader, went to the scene and blamed residents for unlawful construction – which the government allows so it can issue fines to get money from them. He didn’t send the Greek Navy to help pluck survivors from the water, apart from seven Coast Guard vessels and two ships, leaving it to fishermen and private boats to do the job of rescuing people who jumped into the sea, some of whom had to tread water for hours waiting for help but with a number drowing.
Researchers found that the narrow streets and numerous dead-ends that blocked off escape routes to the sea, as well as too few open spaces in Mati, with buildings covering almost every square inch and no town planning.
Their findings were backed up by images taken during an inspection of the area’s fire-hit buildings and neighborhoods, said Kathimerini.
Access to the sea was worsened by high cliffs and rocks on the shoreline preventing people from jumping into the waters although one 13-year-old girl died trying and 26 others perished on a bluff, either too afraid to jump or unable to see stairs nearby leading into the water.
“This (fact) combined with low visibility and a choking atmosphere largely led to a high number of people getting trapped,” the report said.
Fire survivors and relatives of the dead are reportedly preparing lawsuits as prosecutor Varvara Gnesouli is taking testimony from the heads of various state bodies responsible for fire prevention. Citizens Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said there were “no operational failures,” despite widespread evidence there was.
Gnesouli plans to lift confidentiality restrictions to have access to communications listen to talk between the various agencies who responded amid earlier reports it was chaotic.
in order to access communications between the various state services involved in fighting the fire to ascertain who knew when it broke out and when authorities were first informed about the deaths.