New wreckage, ancient ruins

The remains of the civilization dating from the 17th century BC at Akrotiri on Santorini and the wreckage of a contemporary structure at the archaeological site became one in tragic fashion on Friday afternoon. The sight we witnessed in the evening was painful. The section of the roof that had collapsed brought back images of the Ricomex factory that was destroyed during the last major earthquake in Athens, in 1999. Shock The islanders were numb with shock. Archaeologists who have been working for years on the site and the excavations seemed to have lost someone close to them. «It was the section that covered the three-cornered piazza,» was all archaeologist Natasa Akrivaki, who has been working at the site since work began on building the roof, could manage to say. Among the first to arrive at the scene was Mariza Mathari, the Ephor of Cycladic Antiquities. The accident had occurred just a few hours earlier, while a small group of tourists were on the site and a deafening noise was suddenly heard. Part of the roof broke away, falling on seven people – a young American couple, a Slovak couple, a German woman, a Greek man (Ioannis Damigas, who works on the site) and a Welshman, Richard George Bennion, 46, who was was eventually pulled out dead from the wreckage. Eyewitnesses say Bennion’s companion was just a few meters away from the roof and was taken to hospital suffering from shock. The five injured foreigners were taken to a local clinic and later by C130 Hercules jet to the KAT and Thriassio hospitals in Athens. Damigas received first aid and was able to go home. Opinions vary as to the cause of the accident. One worker on the site who wished to remain anonymous said that the metal structure had been making peculiar sounds on Friday morning. «They weren’t the usual sounds, but nobody thought anything like this would happen,» he said. Others claim that a few seconds before the collapse there was a loud noise and soil began to fall into the site, causing visitors and workers to panic and rush for the exit. Immediately after the roof collapsed, a 15-man EMAK rescue team led by Fire Brigade Chief Lieutenant-General Christos Smetis set out from Santorini. The investigation focused on releasing the trapped man and until dawn on Saturday there were fears that a second person may have been trapped beneath the ruins. Only when that was finally ruled out, on Saturday morning, did the EMAK team leave for Athens, Smetis told Kathimerini. What could have caused the ultra-modern roof that was designed and constructed by leading Greek experts to collapse? «They say that some of the steel beams supporting the roof broke,» Thera Mayor Angelos Roussos told Kathimerini. «Altogether the roof has 58,000 of those beams. But the entire structure was tested in the National Technical University’s anti-seismic technology laboratory.» Others claim that the plaques on the sides gave way, pulling each other down in a domino effect. «The grid probably collapsed because it couldn’t withstand the load of masses of soil,» Efthynis Lekkas, a professor of dynamic tectonics at Athens University who was at the site, told Kathimerini. «But there is no excuse for that. There should have been backup safety mechanisms. So we are looking at a serious mistake in either the study or the construction.» None of these views was expressed by engineers from the consortium that built the roof. J&P AVAX-Impregilo-Embedos issued an announcement Friday stating that «the consortium will immediately allocate a team of experts to perform an in-depth investigation into all the causes of the accident.» However, the project’s two supervisors, civil engineer Thanassis Sakarelopoulos and electrical engineer Diamantis Deliyiannis, were taken to the police station at Karteradou where they were held while waiting orders from the public prosecutor based on Naxos. Cruise ships The island’s small community was deeply shocked by the tragic event and are anxious about the future of the archaeological site and the effects of the publicity on tourism. «Every Thursday cruise ships bring tourists here solely to visit the archaeological site,» said on local resident. «If the roof had collapsed a day earlier, who knows how many victims we might have been mourning?»