NEWS

Two years on, earthquake victims are still in camps

The first question that springs to mind on entering the Menidi earthquake victims’ camp is why people are still living in container homes, two years after the September 7, 1999 earthquake, measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale that killed 143 people in the Athens area. There are approximately 4,500 people living in Menidi’s Kapotas camp alone, and more in another five smaller camps in the area and in Metamorphosis, Liosia and Perissos. Rent subsidies halted six months after the quake and rents have soared in the surrounding areas, forcing those who lost their rented accommodation because of earthquake damage to stay on in the camps. The cost of setting up and operating the camps has so far cost 40 billion drachmas. Asked why they don’t leave the camps, people reply that they have nowhere to go as they can’t afford the rents being charged in Menidi. A woman resident sits outside her hut enjoying the cooler weather – one of the few days that she can economize on the air conditioning, despite the complaints of her children that it is too hot to sleep inside. For them and others, the two years since the quake have been a worse nightmare than the 30 terrible seconds that changed their lives forever. The camp is the largest of its kind in Attica but the atmosphere has changed somewhat since the first few days after the quake when it buzzed with people, cameramen and officials, and trucks roared in bearing blankets, food and equipment. Now life proceeds at a quiet pace. Washing hangs from wires strung between huts, neat curtains hang inside the windows, wooden fences demarcate the boundaries of front yards and flowering plants add a touch of color. Tatiana K. lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren in one of the huts. The six of us used to live in a rented basement flat for 70,000 drachmas a month. Now a one-room flat costs 120,000 drachmas. The initial 200,000-drachma subsidy we should have received from the State went to our landlady who lived above us, as she had not officially declared us tenants. In the beginning they wouldn’t even let us into the camp because we couldn’t prove our home had been condemned. For three months we lived in a caravan which we bought with a loan, until they accepted us here, she said. The family of Yiannis G. faces similar problems. He lives with his wife, daughter and three grandchildren in two containers. None of those people who paraded before the cameras in the beginning ever comes here now. Not even the mayor, he said after inviting us to sit in his ‘front yard.’ Now and again a car or motorbike speeds by. We have asked for speed bumps to be installed to stop drivers speeding but we keep getting passed from pillar to post and nothing is done, he commented. Most of the residents are trying to put the problems out of their minds – and so, it seems, is the State. Nearly 900 families live in a settlement that is not regularly policed and where there is no doctor. We went to the police and were told that they didn’t have enough officers to police outside the camp, let alone inside it, Costas Zacharaopoulos, secretary of the residents’ association, told Kathimerini. Nine months ago they set up two containers as a medical center after we made representations to Parliament. We asked for a physician, a gynecologist and a pediatrician, but got no response. The containers they set up are just rubbish dumps full of syringes. Obviously the doctors are still at university, he added. We lock ourselves inside at 9 p.m., said another woman resident, Zoe G. Maria T., 30, her husband and three children live in another container. We had a large home where each child had its own room, she said sadly. Now the two older children sleep in one room and our youngest child with us in the other. We gave most of our things away as they don’t fit in here with us, she said. Announcements of handouts of food and other supplies are rare now. Twice there have been handouts of five-kilo drums of oil and a sack of rice, gifts from the European Union, but to obtain them we had to pay a contribution to the residents’ association. You can’t imagine the exploitation that has gone on here, she said. When we were still in the tents and lined up for meals, there were 200 people in charge. They asked us how many of us there were and told us how much we could eat. They put a few shepherds in charge of the flock, shoving at us with their stocks. That’s what we were, just sheep. And we still are. Seismologists look for long term solutions By Giorgos Lialios Kathimerini Two years after the Parnitha temblor, as scientists hasten to reassure the public that the danger of another major quake has passed, there has nevertheless been considerable upheaval in the seismic research sector. The State has begun to look at more long-term solutions; seismological institutes and research groups have stepped up the work pace. A number of disputes have also emerged among them, disputes that many attribute to the battle for funds. The State has considerably altered its approach to the issue over the past two years, Giorgos Stavrakakis, director of the Geodynamic Institute, told Kathimerini. The Athens quake showed that research in Greece should not be spasmodic or piecemeal. He added that the State and the research sector should be prepared, and preparation requires knowledge resulting from research. We hope that Seismic Protection Organization (OASP) programs will result in new knowledge that can be used to update the map of areas in Greece with a high seismic risk factor, he said. According to Akis Tselementis, director of Patras University’s seismology laboratory, the Environment and Public Works Ministry’s drastic change in philosophy over its seismic protection policy was a step in the right direction. I will generally be satisfied if the same rate of improvement continues, although I have some reservations, at least with regard to the Seismic Risk Evaluation Committee, whose president (Vassilis Papazachos) does everything but adhere to the committee’s priorities and creates problems, as he did after the Skyros quake, he told Kathimerini. OASP president Vassilis Andrianakis, on the other hand, sees no change in policy over the past two years, but more support for the work of scientists. I don’t think the earthquake led to any policy changes. However, the fruits of research have matured and we have far more material. Seismic research laboratories have received more support. Of the 1.5 billion drachmas made available over the past two years through research programs funded by OASP, one-third went to seismological research. The State is turning more and more to the scientists, he said. The question remains which direction the scientists are going in. I regret to say that in Greece most people believe that research means prediction, which is an important factor but not the only one, said Stavrakakis. On an international level, research is focusing on ‘seismic scenarios.’ That is, since we can’t predict an earthquake with any precision, we set up scenarios as to what the effects of a quake would be in specific areas so as to take the necessary measures. Modern technologies are a great help in this direction, he added. As for the Parnitha fault, which for some time continued to strike fear into the hearts of Athens residents, scientists have been quite clear. The Athens quake has now been subjected to considerable study, said Stavrakakis. Significant seismological surveys cannot of course be completed in two or even five years. In my view, however, the main message is that what was to happen has already happened. Tselentis agrees with him. Athens should not be afraid of Parnitha as the fault has exhausted its seismic potential for some years to come. Now we have to turn our attention to the fault lines in the Gulf of Evia, Atalanti, Thebes and other areas, he said. Extension to deadline for repairs By Dimitris Lappas Kathimerini The cost of healing Athens’s physical wounds sustained in the 1999 earthquake is expected to reach 600 billion drachmas. The deadline for submitting applications to repair or rebuild property damaged in the quake has been extended until April 30, 2002. Of the above amount, about 300 billion drachmas is earmarked for rent subsidies, temporary camps and other forms of support for the victims of the quake, such as interest-free 15-year loans for the reconstruction of the 4,682 buildings condemned as unsafe and the repair of another 38,165. The rest of that amount is for infrastructure, schools, hospitals and various scientific studies of the affected areas. According to data released this week by Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis, 84 percent of the loan applications for the reconstruction of condemned homes and 80 percent of the applications for loans for repairing buildings have been approved. Of the rest of the cases, the majority have not been processed yet because of unresolved problems arising from joint ownership. Regarding the 4,682 condemned buildings: – 3,200 of the 3,910 (84 percent) loan applications for reconstruction have been approved. – 400 buildings are being reconstructed by the Workers’ Housing Organization (OEK) and the muncipalities (of Ano Liosia and Nea Philadelphia). – 200 buildings were insured against earthquakes and their owners therefore are not eligible for financial support from the State. – for another 150 buildings (3.5 percent), applications have not been submitted because of unresolved ownership issues or other reasons. Regarding the 38,165 buildings needing repair: – 9,525 of the 12,058 (80 percent) loan applications for building repair have ben approved to date. – 2,607 buildings with minor damage have been repaired at the owners’ expense and applications made to the ministry to have them declassified. – 700 buildings have been repaired by the Workers’ Housing Organization (OEK). – 12,000 buildings with only minor damage to walls have been repaired at the owners’ expense. – 2,000 buildings were insured. – 8,900 buildings have still not been repaired, either because their owners say they are not in a hurry to reoccupy them, or because there are unresolved ownership issues. Public Works Undersecretary Nassos Alevras has drawn attention to the need for owners have the buildings declassified once they are repaired, since people interested in renting or buying the property are allowed to obtain information on it from the Earthquake Victims Rehabilitation Service. Why loans are not enough At the Kapotas military camp in Menidi, 80-85 percent of the residents had been living in rented accommodation that was severely damaged in the September 1999 earthquake. The remainder, those who owned their own homes, are still being granted interest-free loans to help them repair or rebuild them. However, the Earthquake Victims Rehabilitation Service authorities are wondering why they are hesitating to take out these loans. The size of the loans being paid out are negligible compared to the cost of rebuilding, said Costas Zacharopoulos, secretary of the Kapotas camp residents’ association. To repair a wall costs at least 10 million drachmas, but they are only loaning us 3 million, minus the notary public’s fees and the 400,000 drachmas to the engineer for the compulsory study. At the most, you are left with 2 million drachmas which isn’t even enough to begin. So you have to make up the difference by taking out a bank loan, for which there are no special interest rates, and by mortgaging your house. That’s why so few people have availed themselves, since most of us simply do not have the resources and cannot take the risk of losing our houses, he said.