News / World

Odile Duperry
3 minute read
26 Jul 2018
1:02 pm

Greece counts cost of deadliest wildfires in memory

Odile Duperry

At least 82 people have been killed in Greece's worst ever wildfires as anger mounted over how authorities could have let the disaster happen.

Picture: AFP.

Family members were helping Thursday to identify the bodies of the 82 people killed in Greece’s worst ever wildfires 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 Thursday by a fire service spokeswoman, without specifying whether they were found by rescuers or died in hospital.

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.

One resident of Mati, the village worst affected, described it as “a night of hell”.

Picture: AFP.

An emergency services spokesman told AFP on Thursday that a blaze near Kineta, 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Athens, was largely being managed, though it was still working to extinguish pockets of flames.

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.

Among those killed was a newly married Irishman who had been on honeymoon in Mati when his car was caught in the wildfires, British media said.

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.

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.

Picture: AFP.

‘Absolve government sins’

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 on Thursday, 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 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.

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

The mass-selling Kathimerini published details of what it said was a chaotic meeting held in April to discuss fire prevention in the region.

“Instead of organising the fight against fires, the municipalities, prefectures, fire services and foresters fought with each other,” it said.

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