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Heartbreak: funerals begin for Greece's forest fire victims



ATHENS, Greece – Funeral for the victims of Greece's deadly wildfire began on Saturday with the burial of an elderly priest who drowned as he sought protection from the flames in the sea off the coast. 1

9659005] Hundreds of people visited Father Spyridon Papapostolous's funeral at his parish Halandri, a northern suburb of Athens, the Greek capital.

Papapostolou, his wife and daughter were among hundreds who went into the water to protect themselves from the fast-moving flames. But the 83-year-old cleric died and drowned while his wife and daughter survived.

"Father Spyridon was certainly ready for this trip, but not that way, he did not deserve it," his niece, Ifigenia Christodoulou, told The Associated Press. "I hope he prays for all of us from above, just as he has done all these years."

Dimitra Bavavea directed her anger in the "unfair" way that so many people lost their lives. The fire was the deadliest wildfire in Europe since 1900, according to the International Disaster Database of the Center for Disaster Research in Brussels.

"My suffering is great and my anger for those who have left people unfairly burned to death," she said. "I hope that those who died are in heaven, and I thank you, Father Spyridon, for all that you have offered us."

Greece's Minister of Public Order continued to defend the authorities' response to the fire on Monday. Minister Nikos Toskas told the state broadcaster ERT that it was impossible to evacuate the 15,000 people in the 90-minute bombing of the area through the area.

In sadder news, the bodies of twin girls, of whom their father had originally believed the fire survived, have been identified, private investigator George Tsoukalis told the AP. He said nine-year-old twins Sophia and Vasiliki Philipopoulos were found in the arms of their grandparents, who also died in the fire.

One day after the fire, Yiannis Philipopoulos issued a public appeal to locate his missing daughters. He said he had seen them on television programs in a group of people getting out of a fishing boat she had rescued.

The tragic death of the twins was also confirmed by Smile of the Child, an independent children's charity, also confirming the death of 13-year-old Dimitris Alexopoulos, whose body was among those found by firefighters.

Coroner Nikolaos Kalogrias told the AP that the identification of the fire remains is continuing at a steady pace. The Greek authorities have not reported how many people are still missing.

Toskas said firefighters have done everything in their power to save as many lives as possible, but the mistakes of urban planning have created conditions over the last 60 years, making it difficult for firefighters to do their jobs.

Toskas said more than half of the buildings in the Mati area, 30 kilometers east of Athens, were built without permission. In addition, some beaches were fenced off, which should prevent people fleeing the flames from getting into the water.

He said the government's priority now is to take action to prevent this from happening again.

Toskas did not seem to mind the call of his boss, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, to follow his leadership in assuming political responsibility for the disaster.

But the locals in the affected town of Mati were unimpressed by Tsipras explanation.

"I want to know something" I accept political responsibility "means … Will he go to jail? What is the repayment?" Vissarion Pantelides, 79, said on Saturday.

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Demetris Nellas in Athens and Adam Pemble in Mati contributed to this story.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed.


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