The devastating fires that raged in Attica on Monday leaving so many dead, injured and missing and having destroyed whole towns brought, once again, the question: Why Greece is always unprepared to face natural disasters?
From the killer fires of Ilia in 2007, to the murderous floods in Mandra last November, to Monday’s total devastation of East Attica, Greek citizens wonder: Where is the State to protect us?
Mati, one of the most beautiful seaside towns in Attica, was literally erased off the map as there is no intact building left, not a green leaf in sight while dozens of people met horrible deaths, either burned or drowned in the sea that was blackened by the smoke.
At the same time the total destruction of the picturesque town exposed one of Greece’s plights: The total lack of planning and preventive measures against extreme natural phenomena.
First, there was no evacuation plan for the people who were trapped in the flames. Local authorities, overall, do not inform citizens on how to react in case of fire or flood. There is no such thing as signs for evacuation routes in case of fire. Therefore, locals and holidaymakers acted on their own.
Furthermore, there is no town planning in most towns in Greece. Everyone can build a house wherever their piece of land lies. In many cases, all it takes is a little bribe to local authorities and you can have a house in the woods or close to the beach. The result of this anomie is that municipal authorities can not have a proper road plan that would give residents a road to evacuate or escape.
In the case of Mati, the main Marathonos Highway separates the town from the wooded, mountainous area above. There is no fire wall, however, that would prevent the blazes crossing the road to reach the town. In fact there is no firewall across Marathonos Highway.
As a result, when the flames reached Mati, locals could not escape by land. So their only way out was by sea. Most of them burned to death on the way to the water. Others drowned because of the strong winds.
Competent authorities were also absent, literally unable to give people guidance, There was no coordination between agencies on how to deal with the phenomenon.
A good example of the above is the fires in Kineta: Firetrucks went to Kineta and fought the flames. However, since there was no plan on how they would get more water once their tanks were empty, the firetrucks got stuck in traffic and could not go back to the flames.
At the same time, as cars were trying to escape from Kineta, the toll boots in both direction were still operating and collecting money, thus slowing down the people who were in a rush to leave the area.
Competent agencies seemed to improvise along the way. The “Xenokratis” plan, a central coordinating body envisaged to deal with such phenomena, is at an infant stage. State agencies seem unable to coordinate between themselves, due to bureaucratic regulations.
Unfortunately, no authority or individual official will ever assume responsibility for the inadequacy of the State mechanism to prevent such disasters or manage situations of extreme natural phenomena. Such was the case of Mandra where 22 people drowned in the November floods. When the town flooded again in early June, the town mayor said that there was not a single anti-flood work done since November, contrary to the pledges of the Attica Region governor.