NEWS

Elderly hope for village return

Still wearing their traditional black headscarves, a group of elderly Greek women sit in utter despair after fires forced their evacuation from a village that most have rarely left during their lives. «Policemen forced me to leave my home. I didn’t even have time to close up the house or to take any shoes,» says Dimitra Agrida, an 85-year-old widow. «We can’t go back up to the village for the time being. At our age we’d choke on the smoke and ashes.» Dimitra and her five companions were slumped in chairs at a hotel in Sparta, their temporary home since they were evacuated from the tiny village of Phalaisia in the western Peloponnese on Sunday. The police moved the villagers from the modest stone homes and olive groves they had tended for decades – even those who had no desire to leave. Dimitra’s friend Yannoula Iannopoulos, 77, who was evacuated with her 85-year-old husband, could not recall the last time she ventured outside Phalaisia. «There are just 30 people living there and we are all old. What could we do against the flames? We wanted our children to come and help, but the roads were blocked,» Yannoula told AFP. A volunteer fireman admitted he could not bring himself to tell his grandmother that her house in the village of Agrianoi had been badly damaged by the fire. «Fortunately she was staying with us for a few days (when the fires struck),» said Grigoris Panayotis, 27. «We keep telling her that everything is alright and in the meantime I’m going to try to repair what I can. The truth would kill her.» The hotels of Sparta were playing host to about 100 evacuees as the disaster continued to unfold in Greece for a fifth day on Tuesday. Unable to return home, Yannoula was trying to put a brave face on her misfortune. «At least I won’t have to do the cooking for once and I’m getting used to life in a hotel. I can’t ever remember staying in one before,» she said. (AFP)