Greece’s opposition accused the government of arrogance and an utter failure to protect lives in responding to a devastating wildfire as questions remained unanswered over how at least 86 people died in the village of Mati.
Survivors of one of the worst Greek disasters in living memory heckled a government minister when he visited the scene less than 30km east of Athens on Thursday.
But yesterday an official three days of mourning declared by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ended and his opponents immediately went on the offensive.
The main opposition New Democracy party criticised a government news conference on Thursday night where not one word of apology was heard. “This government has just added unbridled cheek to its abject failure in protecting lives and people’s property,” said New Democracy spokesperson Maria Spyraki.
Civil Protection Minister Nikos Toskas told the news conference that the government suspected arson was behind Monday night’s blaze, which trapped dozens of people in their cars trying to escape a wall of flames.
The left-led government defended itself, saying there had been no time to evacuate people because the blaze spread very quickly.
But pressure is growing on the government, which is trailing New Democracy in opinion polls, as the death toll was expected to rise further and the questions on how people were trapped piled up.
Tsipras has not been seen in public since Tuesday.
Politicians’ criticism reflected anger among the survivors. “They left us alone to burn like mice,” Chryssa, one of the survivors in Mati, told Skai television. “No one came here to apologise, to submit his resignation, no one.”
Toskas said he had offered his resignation but Tsipras rejected it. “A day after the tragedy, mainly to have my conscience clear and not because of mistakes, I offered my resignation to the prime minister, who told me it’s a time to fight,” Toskas told reporters on Thursday.
Fofi Gennimata, who leads the socialist PASOK party, said the government carried a huge political responsibility.
“Why didn’t they protect the people by implementing on time the available plan for an organised and co-ordinated evacuation in the areas that were threatened?” she asked. “They have confessed they let people burn helplessly.”
The government has announced a long list of relief measures including a one-off e10000 ($153000) payment for families of the victims. Their spouses and near relatives were also offered public sector jobs. But many felt that was not enough to ease the pain and wanted authorities to assume responsibility for the scale of the devastation.
About 300 firefighters and volunteers were still combing the area yesterday for dozens still missing. More than 500 homes were destroyed, and the fire brigade said some closed-up homes had not yet been checked.
Haphazard and unlicensed building, a feature of many areas across Greece, was also blamed. Many routes to the beach had been walled off. - Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)