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Greeks haunted by Mati fire tragedy, two years on

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By Foteini Doulgkeri
The fire that ravaged the Greek seaside town of Mati on July 23rd, 2018 -
The fire that ravaged the Greek seaside town of Mati on July 23rd, 2018 -   -   Copyright  Courtesy Up Stories

It's exactly two years since a blaze on Greece's eastern coast grew into one of the largest urban wildfires in recent European history.

Memories of the 2018 Mati fires are still painfully raw for many locals trying to rebuild their lives.

''I went through post-traumatic stress and I think that now, slowly, I am getting over it," said local resident Aphrodite Hatzianastasiadi.

"These were two very difficult years. The numbness of the first days, when we had to face pictures of dead bodies, which you had to see and co-exist with, since we never left, made us numb, and this feeling is still there."

The fire, which started on the Penteli mountain, spread very quickly to the seaside towns of Mati and Kokkino Limanaki, east of Athens, killing 102 people.

Authorities said illegal building was partly to blame for the scale of the damage. Some residents had built houses between wooded areas that effectively cut off escape routes.

One group of 26 people, adults and children, died locked in an embrace, after they were surrounded by the flames and ran towards the sea, but found themselves trapped near the top of a cliff.

Survivors were able to jump off the lower parts of the cliffs or rush into the sea from the beach, swimming further from the shore to escape the smoke. Many were rescued by fishing boats, but some ended up disoriented and drowned.

'Wounds still bleeding'

It is still difficult for many children to talk about the fires two years ago. 

Lydia Kavalierou spoke of her panic when she found herself stuck at the beach – where hundreds of people sought safety – not knowing whether her parents were alive.

"At that moment, we had to be mature enough and leave behind our adolescence or our childhood,” she said.

The changing landscape in the area and the return of nature have brought hope. However, recent allegations of corruption in the local fire department have reignited anger.

''Our wounds are still bleeding," said local resident and writer Giorgos Spanos. "There is still a lot of pain, and a lot of anger, towards everyone.

"All the residents are examples of resilience, because of what they went through, not only that day, but during the months after the tragedy," he added.

Watch Fay's report in the video player above.