Fire-Stricken Mati Residents Face Hardships

The fire-stricken residents of Mati struggle to bring their lives back to normal, but it is a process that moves agonizingly slow.

The magnitude and complexity of the disaster have made the next day very frustrating for the survivors of the tragedy. There are many factors that have been overlooked by authorities, such as the danger of the burned building materials that have emitted toxic fumes that may potentially cause serious respiratory damage.

As experts say, many houses in Mati were built in the 1950s and 1960s with materials that today are deemed dangerous and thereby prohibited, such as asbestos, which is carcinogenic. If burned, asbestos should not be touched with bare hands.

Another example is the glass wool used in constructions. When burned, it becomes toxic. Other building materials can change consistency after combustion and become dangerous, too.

However, the General Secretariat for Civil Protection has given no directions or warnings to Mati residents on how to proceed in regards to their burned homes and what they should or should not do.

Instead, in order to mitigate the political impact of its inability in dealing effectively with the fires and protecting the citizens, the Greek government is trying to turn the focus on the illegal houses and buildings that were built there years ago.

An amendment that was voted in parliament on Wednesday calls on the immediate demolition of all buildings without a proper building license.

The same amendment also includes immediate compensation measures for the victims of the fires. On Thursday, the first day the mechanism for relief to the fire-stricken Mati residents went into effect, there were over 1,000 applications for compensation.

Yet, the first act of the much-advertised demolition of illegal buildings took place on Thursday in Halkidiki, northern Greece, where the competent authorities demolished a wall put up illegally that blocked access to the beach. An act that was more for show, if anything, and that does nothing to ease the pain of Mati residents who lost their loved ones and/or their homes.

It should be noted that in June 2017 a bill gave those who had houses built without proper building permits, the opportunity of legalizing them with an affordable penalty that could be paid in installments.

Also, Mati residents who have filed lawsuits against the State may see their cases to go to court in years from now, as the judicial system in Greece is extremely slow. There are so many state agencies and government organizations involved in dealing with natural disasters, that it will take years for the cases to be tried. Thus, it will take years for plaintiffs to see justice done, if at all. There have been legal cases after natural disasters –, such as the 1999 earthquake that left many dead — that haven’t been completed in 20 years.

In the case of the destruction at Mati, a man filed a lawsuit against the Hellenic Police, the Fire Department, the General Secretariat for Civil Protection, the Attica Region, the Marathon Municipality “and all responsible”. It is likely that the case will drag for years in the Greek judicial system.

At the same time, no state official has assumed responsibility for the deadly East Attica fires, with many of them trying to pass the blame to other ministries or state agencies.

So, the next day for the fire victims is going to be a long and sad one.