Greeks question capabilities of emergency response amid destructive weather conditions


Several days after wildfires killed more than 80 people in Greece’s Attica peninsula, a thunderstorm brought more destruction in the form of flash flooding to parts of the same region.

Greece’s Fire Brigade said on Twitter it had received 140 calls from people requiring assistance due to the flooding in the Attica region.

This sentiment has been echoed by some Greek officials and many members of the general Greek public on social media. In an interview with CNN specifically on the recent fires, Vagelis Bournos, the mayor of Rafina-Pikermi, said he believed the deaths could be due to mistakes made in the emergency response, poor urban planning and years of austerity hampering the capabilities of public services.


Is human error to blame for the fires?

In a press conference overnight, Greece’s Deputy Minister for Civil Protection Nikos Toskas said there was evidence to suggest the wildfires were caused by arson, however, he did not elaborate on the nature of the evidence. The spread of the fires was also caused by adverse weather conditions, specifically strong winds, he continued.

Toskas later said he had looked into whether mistakes were made in how the fires were dealt with, but, so far, he could find none. Athens-based journalist responded to the comments, asking if mistakes, by Toskas’ standards, were made, how much higher would the death toll be?

Opposition politician and former Minister of Labour, Social Security, and Welfare Giannis Vroustis said the Greek government should be ashamed for claiming the emergency response to the fires couldn’t have been better, and for “shifting responsibilities” and blame to climate change and arsonists.

However, other concerns were raised over austerity cuts to Greece’s public services in recent years, and how this could have affected emergency response to the fires.

Matt Wrack, the general secretary for the Fire Brigades Union in the UK, said on Twitter that he “visited Greek fire service some years ago and saw the impact of austerity – including tackling wildfires.”

“Solidarity with all those involved in the front line,” he added.

No end in sight

While there may have been no reported injuries from yesterday’s flooding in Athens, many are still wondering when these disasters are going to end, and whether Greece’s public services are capable of protecting the population.

And as the search for loved ones missing in the wildfires continues (just some of the missing are pictured on an unofficial list put together by a cybersecurity company), even more questions are raised about what more could have been done to prevent the more than 80 deaths, and what would happen if a fire on this scale were to happen again?