Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday vowed to end decades of illegal building “chaos” which he blamed for contributing to devastating fires last month that claimed scores of lives.
Tsipras’ government has been severely criticised over its response to the July 23 wildfire in the coastal resort of Mati that claimed 91 lives, making it the deadliest fire disaster in Greek history.
“Illegal building chaos that threatens human lives can no longer be tolerated,” Tsipras said after a meeting with ministers and regional administrators.
“Whatever destroys forests and beaches, whatever represents a danger will be torn down,” he said. “It is our duty to our dead, but more so towards the living.”
Four senior officials including the minister responsible for the police and the heads of the police and fire brigade have been removed, days after claiming that the state’s response to the emergency had been well-managed.
The government had insisted that with winds blowing at speeds of up to 120 kilometers (75 miles) an hour, there was little time to mount an effective evacuation.
It later emerged that the police had failed to properly seal away the area because the fire brigade had not alerted them to the location and size of the fire.
As a result, many drivers were inadvertently diverted into Mati’s narrow streets and trapped.
Residents fleeing the flames with just the clothes on their backs were also left unaided on the beaches for hours.
Officials now insist that victims would have found it easier to escape if the area had not been so densely built, often in violation of planning laws.
Tsipras said on Tuesday that about 3,200 illegal buildings blocking access to roads, flood channels and the coast in the greater Attica region would be demolished.
A judicial investigation into possible faults by state officials is underway.
The relatives of two people who perished in the fires have also sued the authorities for negligence and exposure to danger.
In addition to the dead, 36 people are still hospitalised, six of them in critical condition.