Without a captain, without a compass

Without a captain, without a compass

It seems to be Greece’s lot: Difficult circumstances and unfortunate incidents – the type that every other civilized country habitually deals with on the basis of a well thought-out plan – somehow here tend to evolve into unspeakable tragedies because the Greek state apparatus is unable to deal with anything other than business as usual.

As a result, 23 people died after heavy rainfall flooded streets and homes in Mandra, west of Athens, last November. Meanwhile on Monday, at least 74 people died and hundreds of homes and cars were burnt to a crisp when a wildfire driven by strong winds swept through the districts of Neos Voutzas and Mati, east of the Greek capital.

The Mandra tragedy was not caused by some intense, days-long rainstorm the type of which is usually seen in Bangladesh. Similarly, Monday’s fire was not a California-style kind of blaze which burns for weeks, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of homes in its way.

What we experience here is extreme weather phenomena of a local magnitude in areas which lie just a half-hour drive from the capital. All the emergency and rescue services were very near to the sites of the recent catastrophes.

The Mati tragedy could have been avoided if the fire service had done its job, if it had properly factored in the direction and strength of the wind to assess the speed of the blaze which started on the eastern slope of Mount Pendeli so that it could have then rolled out an emergency evacuation plan and safely moved residents away from the center of the inferno.

In contrast the fire service did a bad job of assessing the direction of the fire. And it improvised. Police blocked traffic on Marathonos Avenue and redirected drivers to Mati (deeming that the fire would not cross the highway), effectively trapping them in a maze of narrow streets from which they could not escape.

Someone has to take the blame for this operational failure, for the state’s inability to prevent the disaster and guide people to safety. Greece must finally get to the point where it is able to work out a plan and procedures when necessary and not have to depend on the self-sacrifice of firemen, the coast guard and volunteers.

We must finally stop losing people to such tragedies. Our politicians must stop resorting to overnight meetings broadcast live on TV just for the sake of appearances.

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