Greek authorities attacked for ‘inability to protect citizens’ as inquest begins into botched rescue

Home / Greek authorities attacked for ‘inability to protect citizens’ as inquest begins into botched rescue

The Greek government and residents traded recriminations over devastating wildfires on Thursday as its defence minister suggested "criminal" unregulated building had blocked escape routes.

Panos Kammenos, who had earlier been heckled by angry residents, claimed that unlicensed holiday homes in the densely-packed area around fire-ravaged Mati carried some responsibility for the heavy loss of life.

"This is a crime from the past," he told reporters during a visit to Mati which quickly turned sour.

"This coast of Athens, all these properties, the majority are without a licence, and they have occupied the coast without rules."

Furious residents had earlier shouted the minister down as he entered the village: "You let people burn. You left us at the mercy of God," said one woman who lost her home in the blaze.

Nikos Toskas the citizen protection minister, said on Thursday night that Greece had "serious indications" that the wildfire was caused by arson.

Mr Toskas said satellite image analysis and ground inspections suggested that the fire broke out in multiple places in a short time frame.

Local authorities in Greece have been criticised for not deploying enough firefighters to beat the flames of intense wildfires. Many without enough equipment, and needing international help.Credit:
Xinhua / Barcroft Images

Vagelis Bournos , the local mayor, defended his decision not to evacuate the area as "citizens do not follow evacuation plans but they stay behind to protect their households."

Residents suspect the labyrinthine layout of the resort, where only a handful of narrow alleyways lead down to the beach, hampered escape efforts. 

A group of 26 people, whose charred bodies were found behind a closed door leading to one of those alleyways, is believed to have perished as they couldn’t find the escape route. 

Theo Sgouras, a 54-year-old whose house was miraculously spared by the blaze, said major safety reforms should have been made decades ago as the area was a known fire hazard.  

“They could have done simple things, they should not have allowed the houses to be packed so tightly together, and they should have placed water towers every few hundred metres in the area,” he said.

Wildfire in Mati, Greece

Dozens of anguished relatives began submitting their DNA on Thursday to help identify rows of burned corpses in the region’s morgues.

Though a web page has been set up to track down lost relatives, including twin nine-year-old girls, hope is rapidly fading that any of them have survived.

It also emerged on Thursday that a couple from Cornwall, Fred and Suzanne Cogdell, escaped the blaze by hiding in rocks at the beach in Marti.

"Guys were taking their shirts off to cover the children because they were in their swimming costumes and the embers were burning them,” Mr Codgell said.

Aerial images show how tourists were forced towards the ocean by the spreading firesCredit:

Greek fire experts claim local authorities failed miserably to enforce fire safety regulations which could have saved dozens of lives.

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“As a matter of principle, all municipalities are meant to have evacuation maps for different hazards. But in practice very few do, and unfortunately Mati did not,” said Costas Synolakis, professor of natural hazards management at the Technical University of Crete.

"They should have evacuated before the fire even reached Mati,” he added.

In Mati, one firefighter told the Telegraph his force was woefully ill-equipped to tackle the blaze, blaming public spending cuts made in the wake of the Greek debt crisis.

“My boots have melted from the heat and I’m wearing clothes that are ten years old. The same for the fire engine – that is twenty years old,” he said. “The problem is they have been cutting public funds for years.”.

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