Greece to give millions in compensation to flood victims

Greece to give millions in compensation to flood victims

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece said on Monday it would offer emergency compensation worth millions of euros to hundreds of households affected by flash flooding west of Athens that killed at least 20 people on Nov. 15.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were extensively damaged in the coastal towns of Mandra and Nea Peramos when a torrent of mud and water smashed into the settlements, built along dry gullies on the foothills of a mountain range.

Twenty people died and two remain missing from the early-morning deluge, the worst casualty toll from flooding since 1977 when more than 30 people died.

The disaster has prompted recriminations and finger-pointing over a perceived inability of Greek authorities to act on prior warnings that areas with poor infrastructure and unlicensed construction were vulnerable to flooding. Critics also asked why flood prevention projects had been delayed.

Authorities will offer flood victims up to 5,000 euros ($5,896.50) for households and 8,000 euros for businesses, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.

It was not immediately clear how much the state had budgeted for compensation. Tzanakopoulos told Reuters the amount would come from the national budget.

That assistance would be over and above compensation residents were entitled to, comprised of 60 percent government aid and 40 percent interest-free loan, he said.

The flash flooding hit many areas of the country, including housing settlements where town planning regulations are often flouted.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Greeks march to mark 1973 student revolt against junta, clashes break out

Greeks march to mark 1973 student revolt against junta, clashes break out

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police clashed with hooded youths in Athens on Friday after thousands marched to mark a bloody 1973 student uprising that helped topple the military junta which then ruled the country.

More than 10,000 people marched peacefully to the embassy of the United States, which some Greeks accuse of having supported the seven-year military dictatorship. About 5,000 police were deployed in the streets of central Athens.

At the tail-end of the demonstration, hooded youths hurled stones and petrol bombs at police in the Exarchia district in central Athens, often the setting for such clashes. Police used teargas to disperse them.

Earlier on Friday, Greeks laid flowers at the Athens Polytechnic University to honor those killed during the revolt. The junta collapsed less than a year later.

The annual protest often becomes a focal point for protests against government policies and austerity measures mandated by the country’s international lenders in exchange for bailout funds. The crisis that broke out in 2010 has left hundreds of thousands of people unemployed.

Protesters held banners reading: “We will live freely” and “No pensioner will be fired!”

After seven years of belt-tightening Greeks hope that they will emerge from lenders’ supervision in August 2018, when the country’s third international bailout expires. Many of them accuse a political elite of driving the country to bankruptcy.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Greeks in mourning and disbelief after flood that killed at least 15

Greeks in mourning and disbelief after flood that killed at least 15

MANDRA, Greece (Reuters) – Greeks voiced despair and disbelief on Thursday after a flash flood killed at least 15 people and left hundreds homeless, with many blaming a system that allowed houses to be built on dried up river beds.

In the towns of Nea Peramos and Mandra west of the capital Athens, crumpled cars and mangled furniture lay on roads caked in the thick mud left behind by a raging torrent that smashed through homes on Wednesday morning. [nL8N1NL22V]

“We are ruined. My tavern and my house are gone,” said Paraskevas Stamou, a restaurant owner in Mandra. “Everything is gone, the road is gone, the water is still flowing and we were flooded again last night and this morning.

“We are expecting another downpour tonight. It’s like God hates us,” he told Reuters.

Maria Kriada is comforted outside her destroyed house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Maria Kriada is comforted outside her destroyed house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

To escape the lethal floodwaters, residents took desperate measures.

“We had nowhere to sleep. We slept on the roof, we found carpets to cover ourselves,” said a man in Mandra whose house was gutted by the flood but remained standing.

Between sobs, his mother added: “Everything went. We don’t have anyone to help us. I don’t have help from anyone.”

Bad weather continued on Thursday. Officials said they were waiting for conditions to improve before giving a clearer picture of the damage. Five people were still missing.

Flags flew half-mast from state buildings and the Acropolis on Thursday as the government declared three days of national mourning.

Newspapers expressed anger. “A Crime,” was the headline in Ta Nea daily, superimposed on a picture of a woman being comforted next to an overturned car. “The Deeds of Man,” wrote the leftist Avgi, referring to unlicensed constructions.

Experts blamed haphazard construction which the natural path for water runoff, and soil erosion on a mountain range hit by fires.

Both towns were built along an old motorway linking Athens to the Peloponnese city of Corinth. As building crept closer to the road, streams that would have drained runoff from the nearby Pateras mountains were blocked.

“Of course the state wasn’t prepared … we cannot compete with nature,” said Christos Zeferos, head of the research center for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology Academy of Athens, adding that climate change meant people should expect more weather-related disasters.

“We should be prepared for more frequent, and different phenomena,” he told Reuters.

Many of the victims were elderly. The youngest was a 36-year old truck driver who called his mother as the floodwaters rose around his lorry. The line went dead soon afterwards.

General aerial view of a flooded area following flash floods in Mandra, West Attica, Greece November 15, 2017 in this still image taken from social media video.     NATIONAL AND KAPODISTRIAN UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS/via REUTERS

General aerial view of a flooded area following flash floods in Mandra, West Attica, Greece November 15, 2017 in this still image taken from social media video. NATIONAL AND KAPODISTRIAN UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS/via REUTERS

(Reporting By Michele Kambas, Renee Maltezou, Alkis Konstantinidis and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Flash floods kill at least 10 in downpour near Athens

Flash floods kill at least 10 in downpour near Athens

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis

MANDRA, Greece (Reuters) – At least 10 people died in flash floods in Greece on Wednesday in the most deadly such incident in recent years when a torrent of red mud swept through towns west of the capital Athens after heavy rain, authorities said.

Torrential rain of this type is uncommon in Greece, where poor infrastructure can leave citizens vulnerable to flooding.

The overnight deluge turned roads in the industrial towns of Nea Peramos and Mandra, about 27 km (17 miles) west of Athens, into fast-flowing rivers and trapped dozens of people in their homes or cars.

Some residents were forced onto rooftops and balconies while cars were thrust onto porches or tipped onto their side. Twelve people were rescued from a bus on a bridge.

“This is a biblical disaster,” Mandra Mayor Yianna Krikouki told state broadcaster ERT. “Everything is gone.”

Heavy vehicles, a bus and cars were stranded under more than a meter of water on a nearby motorway. The force of the water smashed through walls and broke through roads.

In Mandra, five people – two women and three men – were found dead either in their flooded homes or in allotments. Another two were found floating in the sea.

“The walls collapsed, the cars were carried away and they broke everything here. There is nothing left,” resident Marina Kolia said. “Water is everywhere in the house.”

The wall of a local cemetery crumbled and vehicles collided with tree trunks. The fire brigade said at least three people were missing, and an unspecified number of people injured.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed regret at the loss of life and called for an emergency meeting with ministers.

Greece has had around a week of heavy rain. A state of emergency was declared in the west Attica region, which includes Nea Peramos and Mandra, on Wednesday.

Both towns, which have a combined population of about 20,000 people, lie in the foothills of a mountain in western Attica. Many Greek housing settlements are built without taking into account town planning regulations.

An Athens prosecutor ordered an urgent preliminary investigation into the deaths and destruction caused and was also investigating possible urban planning offences.

On Tuesday, Greece declared a state of emergency on the eastern island of Symi, just off the coast of Turkey, after a storm swept cars into the sea, damaged homes and cut off electricity and water supplies.

(Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Renee Maltezou Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Refugees in Greece demand transfer to Germany, start hunger strike

A girl holds a placard reading, "where is my Mother, where is my Father", as refugees protest, some announcing a hunger strike, as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017.

By Karolina Tagaris and Deborah Kyvrikosaios

ATHENS (Reuters) – A group of mainly Syrian women and children who have been stranded in Greece pitched tents opposite parliament in Athens on Wednesday in a protest against delays in reuniting with relatives in Germany.

Some of the refugees, who say they have been in Greece for over a year, said they had begun a hunger strike.

“Our family ties our stronger than your illegal agreements,” read a banner held up by one woman, referring to deals on refugees between European Union nations.

Refugees, some announcing a hunger strike, hold placards during a protest as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017.

Refugees, some announcing a hunger strike, hold placards during a protest as they seek reunification with family members in Germany, near the parliament building in Athens, Greece, November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Greek media have reported that Greece and Germany informally agreed in May to slow down refugee reunification, stranding families in Greece for months after they fled Syria’s civil war. Greece denies this.

“What we’ve managed to do on family reunification is to have an increase of about 27 percent this year compared with last year, even though we’re accused of cutting back family reunification and doing deals to cut back family reunification,” Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas told reporters.

Mouzalas said Greece had assurances from Germany that refugees whose applications have been accepted will eventually go to Germany even if there are delays. He denied that refugees had to pay for their flights.

Applications for asylum, reunification and relocation to other European countries can take months to be processed.

“I have not seen my husband, my child, for more than one year and nine months,” said 32-year-old Syrian Dalal Rashou, who has five children, one of whom is in Germany with her husband.

“I miss him and every day I am here in Greece I cry. I don’t want to stay here, I want to go to my husband” she said.

About 60,000 refugees and migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, have become stranded in Greece after border closures in the Balkans halted the onward journey many planned to take to central and western Europe.

Nearly 148,084 refugees and migrants have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year – a fraction of the nearly 1 million arrivals in 2015 – but arrivals have picked up in recent months.

An average of 214 people arrived each day in September, up from 156 in August, 87 in July and 56 in March, Mouzalas said.

The rise has stretched Greek island camps, which are struggling to cope with numbers two to three times their capacity. Most new arrivals are women and children, according to United Nations data.

Mouzalas said the government was in talks with local authorities to move refugees and migrants to local accommodation, including hotels, and it also planned to increase the capacity of some facilities.

 

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris and Deborah Kyvrikossaios)

 

End ‘containment’ of asylum-seekers on islands, aid groups tell Greek PM

: Refugees and migrants line up for food distribution at the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece October 6, 2016.

ATHENS (Reuters) – Over a dozen human rights groups and aid organizations wrote to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday urging him to end the “containment” of asylum seekers in island camps.

More than 13,000 people, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to Turkey, government figures show. Four of those camps are holding two to three times as many people as they were designed for.

Those who arrive on Greek islands following a European deal with Turkey last year to stem the flow are forbidden from traveling to mainland until their asylum applications are processed, and those who do not qualify are deported.

Applications have piled up and rulings can take weeks. A recent sharp rise in arrivals has piled additional misery on overcrowded facilities.

The 19 signatories, which include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, said the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Kos, Chios and Leros had been “transformed into places of indefinite confinement.”

“We urge you to put an end to the ongoing ‘containment policy’ of trapping asylum seekers on the islands … and to immediately transfer asylum seekers to the mainland and meet their protection needs,” they wrote.

They described conditions as “abysmal” and said many asylum-seekers lacked access to adequate and timely procedures and protection. Some have been on the islands for 19 months.

“Reception conditions are deteriorating, and gaps in basic services, especially medical, are increasing,” they wrote.

Thousands of people, including young children, are crammed into tents with only a cloth separating one family from another, the groups said, and conditions were particularly harsh for pregnant women.

Nearly 23,000 people have arrived in Greece this year, a fraction compared to the nearly 1 million who arrived in 2015, but state-run camps are struggling to cope with the numbers.

As an emergency measure, the government has said it plans to move about 2,000 people from Samos and Lesbos to the mainland.

In recent weeks, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) its research showed a mental health emergency was unfolding in migrant camps on the islands, fueled by poor living conditions, neglect and violence.

The United Nations refugee agency called on Greece to speed up preparations at those camps, saying they were ill-prepared for winter.

 

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Toby Chopra)

 

Refugees’ health problems in Greece mostly unmet: medical charity

FILE PHOTO: A migrant from Iran stands at the entrance of his tent at the Souda municipality-run camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Chios, Greece, March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) – Refugees and migrants in Greece receive little or no medical care for most health problems they face and fewer than half of those pregnant had access to maternal care, aid group Doctors of the World said on Tuesday.

About 60,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece, most in overcrowded camps with unsanitary conditions. More than half of this year’s 20,000 arrivals were women and children, United Nations data shows.

Doctors of the World interviewed over 14,000 women treated at its clinics in Greece over three years and found fewer than 47 percent had access to antenatal care before it intervened.

It also found as many as 72 percent of the health problems refugees faced were treated “inadequately” or not at all.

While most countries offer new arrivals some kind of medical screening, the quality was “questionable” and overlooked mental health problems, the charity said.

Often, women did not seek medical care because they were unaware of their rights, they found the healthcare system too complex or they were afraid of being arrested or discriminated against. Limited resources and lack of access to services such as translators also posed practical obstacles.

“Every mother deserves good care before, during and post pregnancy. Their residential status should not affect this basic right,” said Nikitas Kanakis, head of Doctors of the World Greece.

The charity, together with healthcare company MSD, known in the United States as Merck, is implementing a two-year initiative aimed at providing maternal healthcare services to pregnant women and babies from vulnerable populations in Greece.

Asylum seekers in Greece have free access to hospitals and medical care but the public health system, already battered by years of economic crisis, is struggling to cope with the numbers.

Adult migrants without documents only have access to emergency care unless they are considered “vulnerable”.

“Access to quality maternal healthcare can save lives, yet across Europe the most vulnerable pregnant women are still facing challenges in accessing this basic care,” said Mary-Ann Etiebet, director of MSD for Mothers.

A lack of antenatal care to prevent and identify conditions that may harm the fetus or mother increases the risk of complications during childbirth or passing on diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis B, the World Health Organisation says.

“We must work together this address this issue before it escalates further,” Etiebet said.

(The story is refiled to clarify MSD name in paragraph 8)

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

‘No more waiting!’ Syrians stuck in Greece protest at German embassy

Syrian refugee children hold banners and shout during a demonstration against delays in reunifications of refugee families from Greece to Germany, in Athens, Greece, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

ATHENS (Reuters) – Syrian refugees stranded in Greece chanted “no more waiting!” and protested outside the German embassy in Athens on Wednesday against delays in reuniting with their relatives in Germany.

About 100 people, among them young children, marched from parliament to the embassy holding up cardboard banners in English reading “I want my family” and shouting slogans about travel to Germany.

Greek media have reported that Greece and Germany have informally agreed to slow down refugee reunification, stranding families in Greece for months after they fled Syria’s civil war.

About 60,000 refugees and migrants, mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, have been in Greece for over a year after border closures in the Balkans halted the onward journey many planned to take to central and western Europe.

“My message is ‘enough waiting, enough suffering’,” said 41-year-old Syrian Malak Rahmoun, who lives in a Greek camp with her three daughters while her husband and son are in Berlin. “I feel my heart (is) miserable,” she said.

Rahmoun said she and her daughter applied for family reunification last year but that the Greek authorities have not given a clear reply.

A deal between Turkey and the European Union in March 2016 slowed the flow of people crossing to Greece but about 100 a day continue to arrive on Greek islands.

Nearly 11,000 refugees and migrants have crossed to Greece from Turkey this year, down from 173,000 in 2016 and a fraction of the nearly 1 million arrivals in 2015.

Most of the new arrivals this year are women and children, according to United Nations data. In earlier years, men were the first to flee to Europe, leaving other family members to follow.

“I’ve never seen my son (in) two years,” Rahmoun said.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris)

Up to 6.6 magnitude quake off Greece and Turkey kills two

quake damage

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Tuvan Gumrukcu

KOS, Greece/ANKARA (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake killed two people on the Greek holiday island of Kos in the early hours of Friday, sending tourists fleeing into the streets, and causing disruption in the nearby Turkish tourist hub of Bodrum.

A Turkish and a Swedish tourist, aged 39 and 22 years, died when the roof of a popular bar collapsed, Greek police said. Kos’s port was put out of action and, across the strait, a small tsunami damaged vehicles parked near Bodrum’s shore.

On Kos, around 115 people were injured, including tourists of various nationalities — 12 of them seriously. More than 350 people visited hospitals in Turkey, though most had only light injuries.

The quake struck at 1:31 a.m. (2231 GMT), and many of Kos’s tourists spent the rest of the night in the open as a precaution, hotel owners said.

“All of a sudden it felt like a train was going right through the room,” said Vernon Hausman, a German holidaying on Kos.

“I told my son: ‘Looks like an earthquake, so let’s get the hell out of here.'”

Greek authorities said the 12 people seriously injured on Kos included tourists from Turkey, Sweden and Norway; four were transferred to Crete and three to Athens.

One person was in a critical condition, while a Swedish tourist lost a leg, the director of the hospital in Crete told Greek Skai TV.

“LUCKY ESCAPE”

Turkish and Greek authorities put the magnitude at 6.3 and 6.6 respectively and reported several aftershocks, with one estimated at 5.1. The U.S. Geological Survey located the epicenter of the main quake in the Aegean Sea, 10 km (6 miles) SSE of Bodrum and about 16 km ENE of Kos’s main port.

Hotel owners in Bodrum told Turkish broadcasters that some tourists were checking out.

“It was a lucky escape and it could have been much worse,” said Issa Kamara, a 38-year old personal trainer at the Maca Kizi hotel in Bodrum’s smart Turkbuku area.

Constantina Svynou, head of the hoteliers’ association in Kos, told Greek state television that many visitors had spent the night outside their hotels.

“There are about 200,000 tourists on the island, we are at the peak season. Our first reaction was to calm the tourists, following basic rules and evacuating hotel buildings,” Svynou said, adding that there had been no injuries at hotels.

Reuters video footage showed residents and tourists walking along the streets of Kos’s main town among collapsed walls and debris. Long, wide cracks appeared in the asphalt on the quayside, which is near a tourist strip of cafes and bars.

“It was terrible … our bed was shaking from the left to the right,” said Jara, a 26-year-old Dutch tourist. “Everything was going crazy.”

Kos’s airport remained operational and Greek Deputy Shipping Minister Nektarios Santorinios flew there. But he said the main port was out of action.

“Passengers on ferries have been rerouted to the islands of Nisyros and Kalymnos,” he told Greek SKAI TV.

TIDAL WAVE

Police said most of the damage in Kos had been to older buildings.

A seismologist told Greek TV that there had been a tidal wave about 70 cm (28 inches) high.

Turkey’s emergency authorities warned against aftershocks, but said there had been no casualties or major damage there. Some power cuts were reported, and a minaret in the town of Islamkoy was said to have collapsed.

The broadcaster CNN Turk said that, in Bodrum, 60 vehicles had been dragged along by the water. It also showed boats listing in a harbor. Several store owners told the broadcaster NTV they had suffered flood damage.

Turkey said it would evacuate around 200 of its citizens from Greece by boat.

President Tayyip Erdogan said the fact that no lives had been lost in Turkey was a sign that “the measures we took have been effective”.

Turkey’s location between the Arabian tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate renders it prone to earthquakes.

In October 2011, more than 600 people died in the eastern province of Van following a 7.2-magnitude quake and powerful aftershocks. In 1999, two massive earthquakes killed about 20,000 people in Turkey’s densely populated northwest.

The same year, a 5.9 magnitude quake killed 143 people in Greece.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Renee Maltezou, Michele Kambas and George Georgiopoulos in Athens, and Sandra Maler in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Turkey warns Greek Cypriots, oil companies against offshore energy grab

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech at the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, July 10, 2017.

By Ece Toksabay and David Dolan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey warned Greek Cypriots on Friday not to make a grab for energy reserves around the divided island and President Tayyip Erdogan told oil companies to be careful they did not lose a “friend” by joining in.

Talks to reunite the ethnic Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus collapsed in anger and recrimination in the early hours of Friday, ending a process many saw as the most promising in generations to heal decades of conflict.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, speaking at an energy conference in Istanbul, called on Greek Cypriots to refrain from taking “one-sided measures” after talks failed.

It was a clear reference to plans by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government to exploit potential hydrocarbon deposits around the Mediterranean island.

The government has already issues a maritime advisory for a natural gas drill from July to October.

“We want to remind once again that the hydrocarbon resources around Cyprus belongs to both sides,” Yildirim said.

“The Greek Cypriot leadership must seek a constructive approach rather than setting an obstacle for peace. We advise that they refrain from unilateral measures in the east Mediterranean.”

Erdogan, speaking later at the same conference, went further, with a not-very-veiled threat to oil companies who may be tempted to participate in the Greek Cypriots’ plans.

“It is impossible to appreciate that some energy companies are acting with, and becoming part of some irresponsible measures taken by, Greek Cypriots,” Erdogan said. “I want to remind them that they could lose a friend like Turkey.”

 

NEW TENSIONS

Greek Cypriots say it is its sovereign right to explore for hydrocarbons, and it has signed maritime delimitation agreements with most of its neighbors.

Asked on Sunday if there was any pressure on Cyprus regarding the drilling schedule, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said: “Nothing (pressure) is being applied, nor will there be a postponement.”

A number of energy companies have already beaten a path to the island.

Italy’s ENI, ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Korea’s KOGAS have won offshore exploration licenses

A drilling ship contracted by Total, the West Capella, is already heading for Cyprus.

“What we expect from anyone who takes sides in the developments in Cyprus is that they should refrain from steps that might pave the way for new tensions in the region,” Erdogan said.

Asked by Reuters at the petroleum conference whether the company was worried that drilling could alienate Turkey, Arnaud Breuillac, Total’s president of exploration and production, said the company had “no concerns”.

The issue has risen to the fore again because of the failure of the latest round of reunification talks, which were started in part to try to solve the energy issue.

A week of United Nations-mediated talks in the Swiss Alps culminated in a “yelling and drama” session, leaving the conflict unresolved.

Cyprus’s Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived estranged since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek- inspired coup.

Turkey has 30,000 troops stationed in northern Cyprus and their status in any post-settlement peace deal proved to be the undoing of a process one diplomat lamented came “so, so close” to succeeding.

Cyprus talks have collapsed before, most spectacularly in 2004, when Greek Cypriots rejected a U.N. reunification blueprint in a referendum while Turkish Cypriots backed it. It took several years for the United Nations to re-engage.

 

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Written by Jeremy Gaunt and David Dolan; Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Athens; Editing by Larry King)