Greece counts cost of deadliest wildfires in memory - Kogonuso


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Jul 26, 2018

Greece counts cost of deadliest wildfires in memory

Family members on Thursday helped 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.

As the government announced a raft of measures to compensate those affected by the fires, heavy downpours on Thursday afternoon caused flash floods that stranded dozens of motorists and damaged dozens of cars. But no-one was hurt in the flooding, authorities said.

An 82nd person was pronounced dead Thursday 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 was no official confirmation by Thursday evening.

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.

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 nine-year-old twin girls.

- 'Greeks help each other' -

The swiftly moving flames on Monday evening overtook some terrified residents and tourists in their homes and others as they tried 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.

The disaster unleashed a wave of solidarity and many survivors were being looked after by voluntary organisations, who were providing them with accommodation, clothing and food.

Amid mountains of food and baby nappies in a gymnasium in Rafina, near Mati, one of the volunteers, Joanna Kefalidou, an English teacher on vacation, said: "We're Greeks and Greeks tend to come together in times of need and help each other as much as they can."

- '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.

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos was heckled Thursday as he visited the scene of the fires.

"You left us to God's mercy, there's nothing left," shouted one resident.

But Kammenos went on the counter-attack, telling the BBC that illegal construction in the past was also to blame for the disaster.

The "majority" of houses on the coast had been built without the proper licences, he said.

"After this tragedy I think it is the moment to understand that it's dangerous for them and for their families to not follow the rules and the laws," the minister said.

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.

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