Greece (MNN) — Wildfires are a seasonal problem for Greece, but this year’s fires are anything but regular.
“This year, there was a particularly bad series of wildfires in the greater Athens area, and that affected a lot of people,” says Tasos Ioannidis of AMG International. “More than 3500 homes have been affected, some hundreds of them completely destroyed, and it’s the biggest natural disaster in Greece since an earthquake in the 1905s.”
The fires started on Monday and are still spreading through populated areas. So far, 81 people have been confirmed dead in the Mati area, more than 100 were injured, 10 were critically injured, and many individuals are still missing.
Greece typically has to fend off fire during dry seasons, but this one has had a massive impact, especially compared to wildfires in the past.
“It’s still early, so the assessment of exactly what happened is still going on and will go on for a while, but what appears to have happened is that although fires go on every year, this one hit an area that is populated.”
These homes were built in heavily forested areas, making them especially susceptible to damage. Factor in the dry wind, and suddenly flames are moving so fast that they only stop when they hit the coastline. Ioannidis reports people jumping into the water as the fire bore down on them from the city.
On top of all the natural reasons, “It appears that the authorities were slow in reacting, giving evacuation orders that did not come in time, and it became a complete disaster.”
It’s not like Greece needs any more problems. A state of emergency has been declared for this natural disaster, but meanwhile, Ioannidis says the number of refugees flooding across the border is growing, and the crisis is getting worse.
The economic crisis is also ongoing. “There has been over-taxation that has greatly affected people that have a lot of disposable income, and unemployment is still more than 20%, and on top of that, now you have this natural disaster that came out of nowhere. It has really been demoralizing for the Greek people.”
Thankfully, no members of the AMG team were directly affected, and “our coworkers in Greece are very much actively seeking ways to help people who have been affected.”
However, they are connected to people who lost their homes. In fact, Ioannidis says there are very few people in Greece who remain completely unaffected by the crisis.
AMG workers are moving to provide good and other basic materials to victims of the fire, but they’re also looking ahead to the future.
“Our coworkers are looking at… what it would take to get some of the people back on their feet for the long-term, but it’s still early and we’re still assessing the situation,” Ioannidis says.
“In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, there is a lot of help available, but as time passes, that help slows down, and that’s when we really need to step in and help individuals with care for the long term.”
But that’s a lot for the team to handle. These are workers who have been working hard in refugee ministry, summer camps for kids, and more to reach the rest of Greece. Facing this new challenge “is heartbreaking.”
“We need to pray that God will give them strength and wisdom on how to proceed and help everyone that really does need help, that they will have peace, and that emotionally, they will be renewed every day.”
Header photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.