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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 1°C

'You left us to God's mercy': Greek Defence Minister confronted as he visits area devastated by wildfires

Greeks are seeking answers as the death toll from the devastating wildfires continues to mount.

Greece Forest Fires Thanassis Stavrakis Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, left, talks with a local resident during his visit to Mati. Thanassis Stavrakis

FAMILY MEMBERS HELPED to identify the bodies of more than 80 people killed in Greece’s worst ever wildfires today as anger mounted over how authorities could have let the disaster happen.

Firefighters were still dealing with pockets of flames from the unprecedented outbreak around Athens as the government announced a raft of measures to compensate those affected.

An 82nd person was pronounced dead by a fire service spokeswoman, without specifying whether they were found by rescuers or died in hospital.

Media reports suggested 85 people had died, but there has been no official confirmation this evening.

Greece Forest Fires Thanassis Stavrakis Thanassis Stavrakis

The fires, which broke out on Monday, struck coastal villages popular with holidaymakers and burned with such ferocity that most people fled to the safety of the sea with just the clothes on their backs.

Survivors spoke of harrowing scenes including entire families burned alive in their homes.

“We were alone, there was nobody to help us. Everybody did what they thought they had to do to survive on their own,” resident Evi Kavoura told AFP.

I feel a pain in my heart, a very heavy load.

There was still no official word on the number of people missing after the catastrophe, but the death toll of 82 already makes this Europe’s deadliest fire outbreak this century.

The fire service said firefighters were still searching for people reported missing by their relatives, while public ERT television said around 30 bodies had been formally identified.

The head of Greece’s legal-medical services Nikos Karakoukis said there were children among the remains still awaiting identification.

Greece Forest Fires Thanassis Stavrakis Thanassis Stavrakis

Family members of those missing were invited to provide DNA samples to help the process, which scientists hope to finish by Saturday, Karakoukis told the ANA news agency.

One legal official told ANA that the task was “huge, with many carbonised bodies, which complicates the procedure.”

A website set up by residents lists 27 people still unaccounted for, including a pair of nine-year-old twin girls.

The AP reports that Germany’s federal criminal police department has sent a team of its forensics specialists to Greece to help officials identify victims.

The team includes veterans of such major disasters as the 2002 mid-air plane crash over Ueberlingen, Germany that killed 71 people and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed at least 225,000 across multiple Asian countries.

Friends and colleagues of Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp paid tribute to the Irishman today after it was confirmed that he was killed.

‘Left to God’s mercy’

The government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a relief fund open to donations worth an initial 40 million ($47 million) euros to help affected areas.

But the measures did little to assuage anger over how such a disaster could happen just a few kilometres from Athens.

Greece Forest Fires Thanassis Stavrakis Thanassis Stavrakis

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos was confronted by angry locals as he visited the scene of the fires.

“You left us to God’s mercy, there’s nothing left,” shouted one resident.

The opposition daily Ta Nea accused Tsipras’ administration of seeking “absolution for its sins” with the compensation package.

The wildfires come as record temperatures in northern Europe have also seen blazes cause widespread damage in recent days.

Rain, floods

Greece Flash Flood AP / PA Images Cars float in floodwater in an open parking area in northern Athens. AP / PA Images / PA Images

The swiftly moving flames on Monday evening overtook some terrified residents and tourists in their homes as well some others trying to flee in cars or on foot. AFP photographers saw the burnt bodies of people and dogs.

Some 187 people were hospitalised, with 71 still being treated as of Wednesday evening, including almost a dozen children, most of whom were in a “serious condition”, the fire services said.

In addition to 10,000 euros to the immediate relatives of someone who died, the government said it would provide 5,000 euros per property affected.

It said that of the almost 2,500 homes surveyed by experts after the fire, almost half were now uninhabitable.

In Mati, ministry officials were going house to house, marking the properties with colours depending on the severity of the damage.

Some residents posted notes on their front doors and gates saying they were “doing well”.

The widow of Greece’s most renowned filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos said the late director’s house and personal archives had been lost in the fire.

In scant relief, some rain fell on the region today, but heavy downpours caused flash floods that stranded dozens of motorists in Athens.

The flooding caused material damage but no one was hurt, authorities said.

© – AFP, 2018 with additional reporting by Céimin Burke

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