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When the going gets tough… August 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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In difficult times, it is the positive examples that stand out. It is important that in a country such as Greece, where complaints and criticism are the order of the day, some people simply get on with their jobs.

People like the firefighters who bravely threw themselves into battle on all fronts as their supervisor was trying to decide which phone call demanding firefighting planes was more important. The Mayor of Grylos who, instead of complaining that “there is no state” and, realizing that he was the state, took matters into his hands. The farmer who got on his tractor to transport water to fight the fires. The Albanian who believed it was his own country that was burning and put his soul into the fight, as some sick individuals were spreading xenophobic rumors.

The Greeks are a brave people and know how to act when the occasion demands. What is missing? Government Ministers, Prefects and Mayors who know their jobs and who care about the country rather than how they look on camera.

Quakes hit prefectures already razed by fire August 29, 2007

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Three moderate quakes shook central and northern Greece yesterday, two hitting the fire-ravaged prefectures of Ileia and Evia, but there were no reports of related injuries or damage.

The first earthquake, which struck the area of Avlida in the Gulf of Evia at 7.30 a.m., was also felt in parts of Attica and Halkida.

The second earthquake, a 4.8-magnitude tremor, occured shortly after noon, east of Pirgos in Ileia prefecture. It caused concern, as it lasted for several seconds.

Finally a 5-Richter quake occurred southeast of Alexandroupolis just before 4 p.m. Seismologists were reassuring, describing the tremors as “neither significant nor unusual.” “We are all more sensitive due to the fires,” said Ioannis Kalogeras of Athens’s Geodynamic Institute.

Call centre set up to help Greek fire victims August 29, 2007

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Their homes destroyed, victims of the Greek wildfires are having to rely on emergency donations. Thousands of residents are returning to what is left of the villages ravaged by the flames, which claimed at least 63 lives.

A special call centre has been set up in Athens for victims who need assistance and for those wanting to make donations. Government compensation is also being distributed. Emergency payments of 3,000 euros are being offered to those who have lost their homes: 10,000 is being given to families who have lost loved ones.

As authorities say many of the fires now look as if they are being brought under control, experts are moving in to assess the damage. Victims complain that they could never rebuild with the money they might receive. “We cannot rebuild anything,” said one woman. “Everything is destroyed. All the olives, the people who are staying here, they don’t have anything. All the olives are destroyed. We have our oil, we have our oranges, and now it’s nothing. Nothing, nothing. Everything is damaged.”

Just weeks ahead of a snap election, Greece’s conservative government has come under increasing attack for the way it dealt with the fires. Critics, including the opposition, accuse the government of incompetence, saying it did too little, too late.

Aid pours in for victims > Donations for fire victims were boosted yesterday by banks as well as state and private benefactors from Greece and abroad.

The Bank of Cyprus pledged 5 million euros and the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation another 5 million euros. Another 500,000 euros was pledged by the Athens Water Company (EYDAP). Spain pledged another two water-dropping aircraft.

Families whose homes have been destroyed are to receive between 250 and 400 euros per month, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said. The handouts are to continue until their homes are rebuilt.

Farmers will receive between 1,000 and 3,000 euros per hectare of damaged land, Agriculture Minister Evangelos Bassiakos said. Meanwhile, farmers in Thessaloniki offered to send their counterparts in the fire-ravaged Peloponnese three animals each to help them rebuild their livelihoods. “We are ready to send them our animals and anything else they may need,” said Stelios Voyiatzis, president of the Union of Farmers of Eastern Thessaloniki.

The less tangible side of the destruction August 29, 2007

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Recollections of times past are now left to the imagination > Prehistoric remains at Kafkania, some 7 kms north of Olympia, and part of Ileia province, abundant in remnants from various periods.

Amid the terrible loss of human life, as well as the economic and ecological impact of the major fires in the Peloponnese, a further setback has come to complete the overall tragedy, this being the damage inflicted on the region’s cultural network.

For it is not just Ancient Olympia or the temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae, one of the most important and imposing temples of antiquity, which, not surprisingly, have attracted most of the attention. The devastation has also struck the unique cultural structure of the region’s villages and larger towns, which has traditionally been the lifeblood of a wider area that stretches far beyond the respective geographical boundaries. The fires have made a mess of the regional infrastructure, including dirt roads, footpaths, cemeteries, excavations, shrines, walls, small and large parts of history, like village churches or oak trees.

“My childhood memories were burnt along with all the photos,” one devastated woman told media crews last Sunday night.

The numerous voids caused by the destruction and the links with the past that have now been destroyed, leaves too much up to the imagination, which will gradually wane.

At this point in time, nobody knows how many families have lost their livelihoods and sense of personal history. Nobody is in a position to judge whether the role of a historic town such as Andritsaina, a pivotal town in the central Peloponnese with an important library, will ever be the same again without an active and organized economy. It is as if this catastrophe has eliminated a network of human journeys that have, on a daily basis, provided the raw materials necessary for culture at a regional level.

Apart from the immediate, tangible loss, this tragedy has also been the cause of a severe loss of culture on an intangible level, things mostly generated on a daily basis.

Now that the daily basis of life is in complete disarray, and the psychology of citizens is overwhelmed, culture, in the broader sense of the term, as generated by daily life and manifested through creativity, has taken a step backward. The inclination and the will for its re-establishment will return, but for the time being all we can do is record a period of great darkness.

Security has been raised significantly at archaeological sites of huge importance, such as Epidaurus and Mycenae in the prefecture of Argolida, following the scare at Ancient Olympia. The Culture Ministry has released a detailed list with information provided by local archaeological officials from all regions affected by the fires. The sites at Mystras and Monemvasia remain closed “for the protection of visitors and monuments,” the Culture Ministry announced in a statement.

Blaze damages Olympia site August 29, 2007

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Burned trees are seen yesterday at the site of Ancient Olympia next to a sign that reads ‘Save our forests from fire.’ The blaze at the site on Sunday damaged some artifacts in a storeroom, Culture Ministry officials revealed yesterday.

A fire at Ancient Olympia has done more damage than initially thought, the Culture Ministry admitted yesterday, saying that the roof had caved in on the German Archaeological Institute’s artifact storeroom.

In a statement last night, the Ministry said that part of a marble statue had been severely damaged and several other antiquities were in need of repair. «The state of the storeroom did not permit a thorough search,» the Ministry said.

Until last night, the Ministry had denied that any artifacts had been damaged by the fire, which burnt trees around the stadium at Ancient Olympia but was stopped just short of the museum.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is said to be concerned about the damage to the site and might partly fund its restoration. The lighting of the flame for the Beijing Olympics is due to take place on March 25 and authorities now face a race against time to restore the site.

Elderly hope for village return August 29, 2007

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Still wearing their traditional black headscarves, a group of elderly Greek women sit in utter despair after fires forced their evacuation from a village that most have rarely left during their lives.

“Policemen forced me to leave my home. I didn’t even have time to close up the house or to take any shoes,” says Dimitra Agrida, an 85-year-old widow. “We can’t go back up to the village for the time being. At our age we’d choke on the smoke and ashes.”

Dimitra and her five companions were slumped in chairs at a hotel in Sparta, their temporary home since they were evacuated from the tiny village of Phalaisia in the western Peloponnese on Sunday.

The police moved the villagers from the modest stone homes and olive groves they had tended for decades, even those who had no desire to leave.

Dimitra’s friend Yannoula Iannopoulos, 77, who was evacuated with her 85-year-old husband, could not recall the last time she ventured outside Phalaisia.

“There are just 30 people living there and we are all old. What could we do against the flames? We wanted our children to come and help, but the roads were blocked,” Yannoula told AFP.

A volunteer fireman admitted he could not bring himself to tell his grandmother that her house in the village of Agrianoi had been badly damaged by the fire. “Fortunately she was staying with us for a few days (when the fires struck),” said Grigoris Panayotis, 27. “We keep telling her that everything is alright and in the meantime I’m going to try to repair what I can. The truth would kill her.”

The hotels of Sparta were playing host to about 100 evacuees as the disaster continued to unfold in Greece for a fifth day on Tuesday.

Unable to return home, Yannoula was trying to put a brave face on her misfortune. “At least I won’t have to do the cooking for once and I’m getting used to life in a hotel. I can’t ever remember staying in one before,” she said.

Battle against fires turning as extent of devastation is revealed August 29, 2007

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At least 180,000 hectares burnt but firefighters begin to tame dozens of blazes still burning

fires4.jpg  fires5.jpg  A firefighting plane drops water over a forest fire near the village of Kalyvakia in the western Peloponnese. In a burnt-out church in the village of Greka, a priest gathers charred relics. At least 64 people have died since Friday in Greece’s worst fires in living memory. Some 180,000 hectares of land are believed to have been razed along with countless homes.

Foreign firefighters yesterday boosted efforts to extinguish blazes in the Peloponnese and Evia, raising hopes that the worst fires ravaging the country could be brought under control before further destruction could be wreaked.

Meanwhile, as the death toll from the blazes rose to 64, authorities confirmed that more than 180,000 hectares of land have been razed by fire.

The presence of water-dropping craft was virtually doubled yesterday as planes from several countries took to the air. In Brussels, European Union officials said they were considering the formation of permanent multinational reaction units to respond to natural disasters such as Greece’s unprecedented spate of fires.

Yesterday’s firefighting efforts were mostly concentrated on the Peloponnese and Evia where fires burnt for a fifth day. A total of 56 new fires broke out within 13 hours but most were curbed before they could spread. A blaze in Grammatiko, eastern Attica, which had caused the most concern, was under control late yesterday.

«This picture gives us some optimism,» fire service spokesman Nikos Diamandis said.

Meanwhile, in villages where fires had finally been extinguished, residents were struggling to return to some semblance of normality. In central Evia, hit by one of the fiercest blazes of the past few days, villagers were without electricity or running water for a fourth day. «Municipal teams are distributing bottled water and filling tanks in homes,» the Mayor of Taminaia, Katerina Karapa, said.

«We have to wait another five years before we can gather olives again,» the Deputy Mayor of Zacharo, Spyros Bilionis, said. Zacharo, where at least half of the victims died, has also seen its agricultural tracts ravaged along with some 30 homes.

In Laconia, where fires were still burning yesterday, authorities were positive, despite the devastation. «We will fight, and with the help of the state, we will support our farmers and rebuild the area,» Therapna Mayor Yiannis Rallis said.

President Karolos Papoulias attempted to rally the nation yesterday as he encouraged people to leave their political affiliations aside and concentrate on recovering from the disaster. «This is a national tragedy and it is everyone’s duty at times like this to be mature and confront the catastrophe, which is national and not local,» Papoulias said.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis avoided making any political comment as he urged civil servants to do away with the bureaucratic process when handling applications for aid by people affected by the fires. He said it was a «national aim» to help out those who had suffered from the blazes.

The Prime Minister also visited Elefsina airport last night to thank the Greek and foreign crews of firefighting airplanes that have been flying missions since Friday to help put out the fires.

New Democracy still has a lead over PASOK according to an MRB opinion poll made public by Alpha TV yesterday. The survey, which was carried out on Sunday and Monday, gave the ruling conservatives a 2 percent lead over the Socialists.