Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended his government on Thursday as public anger grew over the response to wildfires that have ripped through thousands of hectares of forest over the past 10 days.
On Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, where some of the worst fires have occurred, rain provided some relief to exhausted firefighters. But with the entire forest covering the northern part of the island destroyed, residents were bereft.
“Pain, sadness, rage, anger are all mixed, when you see your business that has been set up for 38 years turning to ashes in half an hour, you cannot describe how you feel,” said Zoe Charasti, who owned a bakery shop in the village of Rovies.
“The anger and rage is huge.”
While the fires in Evia were being brought under control, serious blazes broke out in the western part of the Peloponnese peninsula.
Mitsotakis, who this week apologised for delays in the firefighting effort, said lessons would be learned for future fires, but that emergency services had succeeded in the main priority of protecting lives.
“Our policy of organised evacuations worked. Homes were burned but no community was destroyed,” he told a news conference.
He pledged to take a series of steps, from acquiring more firefighting aircraft to overhauling forestry management.
With a string of deadly wildfires burning in countries from Turkey to Algeria, extreme weather events caused by climate change have become a central policy challenge to governments across the Mediterranean.
In Greece, one civilian has been killed and another died helping to prepare fire defences. Two injured firefighters are in hospital.
But the casualty toll was well short of the major fires three years ago, when more than 100 people died. However, hundreds of houses and businesses have been destroyed and around 65,000 hectares of forest destroyed.
Mitsotakis, who has authorised a 500 million euro relief package, promised swift payouts but said the direct economic impact would be limited and he remained optimistic about growth prospects for this year and the period up to elections in 2023.
“The signs from tourism so far are encouraging, we may even exceed our targets,” he said.