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Six convicted amid fury over wildfires that killed 104 at Greek resort

By AFP

April 29, 2024 09:51 PM


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Nearly six years after wildfires killed more than 100 people at a Greek resort, an Athens court on Monday convicted six people of involuntary manslaughter and criminal negligence.

None of the politicians among the 21 people prosecuted were convicted, however, sparking fury among relatives of the victims present in court, media reports said.

Six people -- including the then head of the fire service -- received suspended jail sentences of up to 111 years each for their role in the response to the inferno that tore through Mati on July 23, 2018.

The six also made payments of up to 40,000 euros ($43,000) each to the court. The governor of the region of Attica and the mayors of districts in and around the seaside community of Mati, northeast of the capital, were all let off.

Reacting in court, relatives of the dead shouted: "Your court is an insult to the dead, the living and the truth", "There is no justice" and "You have no shame", state TV broadcaster ERT reported. Others wept.

"The reaction is reasonable," minister of state Makis Voridis told Skai TV. "This kind of a sentence is not commensurate with this kind of tragedy," he said. Greece's deputy justice minister Ioannis Bougas told Skai radio that the sentences will "almost certainly" be appealed by a state prosecutor. Wildfires that broke out around Mati spread so fiercely that people burned to death in their cars because traffic jams prevented them from fleeing.

Others drowned when they waded into the sea to escape the flames. Many people went who into the sea had to wait for several hours for help to arrive. Local fishermen were first to help ahead of the  coastguard and navy.

"We are lucky to be alive," one of the survivors told reporters at court. In total, 104 people died and dozens injured. The blaze destroyed an estimated 1,260 hectares (3,100 acres), the Athens Observatory said at the time.

The then government of left-wing prime minister Alexis Tsipras said that with winds blowing at up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) an hour, there had been little time for officials to mount an effective evacuation.

Police and the fire brigade gave different accounts. Witnesses said at the time that residents had not been warned of the imminent danger. Instead of being diverted away from the fires, many motorists were accidentally directed towards the flames and became trapped in Mati's narrow streets.

Prosecutors lodged criminal negligence suits against 21 officials from the fire service, port police and civil protection, as well as against local authorities. Four senior officials, including then police minister Nikos Toskas and several police chiefs, resigned and fire fighters were forced to quit or move to jobs in other areas.

Experts have said that poor urban planning, including a lack of proper access routes and the construction of too many buildings next to combustible forest areas, contributed to the disaster.

The conservative government that succeeded Tsipras's administration pledged to introduce systematic evacuation plans as soon as wildfires approach populated areas.


AFP


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