Greek Villagers Abandon Island Over Raging Fires
A police car siren calls for the last residents of the village of Gouves on the Greek island of Evia to evacuate as fire rages down a mountainside and engulfs the first houses.
“I don’t want to, I don’t want to,” repeats in sobs a woman on her porch who cannot find the strength to flee even as the approaching inferno turns the sky orange.
The fires remained out of control over large swathes of Evia island on Sunday, as evacuations were continuing, pushing hundreds of people towards the beach.
Many villagers joined the battle, and around 10 men were busy digging, cutting and pulling out branches in an effort to slow the raging fire despite the repeated urging of police to leave.
Forming a human chain, they unrolled water hoses fed by agricultural pick-ups, desperate to save their livelihood.
“If people leave, the villages will burn for sure,” says Yannis Selimis, a young man from Gouves. “We are in the hands of God.”
Tempers flared over a lack of government response.
“Which authorities? Which firefighters? Do you see anybody here?” exclaims one local.
“They burnt our paradise,” says Triantafyllos Konstantinos, 46. “We are done,” he sighs.
“It’s tragic. We are all going to the sea,” says Nikos Papaioannou as the fire steadily encroaches on residential areas near the island’s northern coasts.
Refugees in their own country
At Gouves, cars pass through a vast cloud of smoke as they try to go towards the beach.
Some kilometres away, at the beach of Pefki, a ferry boat docked on the beach and a warship off the coast are waiting to rescue these people who have become refugees in their own country.
They wait without knowing whether they will reach the mainland Sunday evening.
“Evia is finished”, says Cleopatra Plapouta. “People are fighting all by themselves. Not a single firefighter inside the villages,” she complains, wearing a scarf and a mask against the thick smoke and ash.
“We are burning for a week now!” her husband exclaims. “The fire started 60 kilometres away! 60 kilometres!”
Shirtless, the greying man gesticulates with despair. “It’s unbelievable! It was a heaven, they burnt it down!”
Maria Moushogianni, who owns a beach hotel where she is shelterin two families who have abandoned their homes, says that Sunday was the first day that airplanes appeared.
“They abandoned us, they lied to us! I’m going to close the hotel and leave,” adds the 66-year-old woman, holding her white cat. “This evening if possible”.