Greece

One year on, Greek quake victims still in tin huts

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By Dina Kyriakidou

ATHENS, Sept 6 (Reuters) - A year after the Athens earthquake that killed 143 people and damaged thousands of buildings in the Greek capital, many of the survivors still live in tiny prefabricated homes in camps ringing the city.

Eva Andreadou, 48, and her 18-year-old daughter Mariza were among the 700 people injured by the quake on September 7, 1999, whose home is now a two-room metal box.

Eva recalls the horror of being trapped in rubble when the earthquake levelled her apartment building and of being unable to reach Mariza who was also trapped nearby.

"It was a nightmare," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "I will never forget the feeling of a mother unable to help her child."

Like other camp residents she says the 24-square-metres prefabricated units are unfit for long-term habitation.

Authorities set up 7,000 of the units after the quake but there are no figures to indicate how many victims have returned to their homes so far.

Potted geraniums line the pathways of the Metamorphosi camp north of Athens and laundry hanging from washing lines swings in the wind. Inside the metal boxes, residents have spread out rugs and hung pictures on the walls.

But they are increasingly discontented with life in tin huts.

"It keeps the rain and wind out but not the heat or cold. It's like living in a car," said Evangelia Argyropoulou, 33, dressed in black.

Air conditioning was installed only in July after strong complaints to the authorities about the heat.

LITTLE FAITH IN AUTHORITIES

Evangelia shares a unit with her 11-year-old daughter, the only family she has left after the quake killed her husband, father and 13-year-old child.

"I came back from work to find our home collapsed and only one child alive," she said.

Most residents in the compound have little faith that the state will restore their damaged homes or provide them with permanent housing any time soon.

Many come from a group of working class apartment buildings that need considerable repairs according to state experts.

"We commissioned our own study at the Polytechnic university, which shows more damage than the state admits and says it would be more expensive to fix the old buildings than to build new ones," said Vicky Diamanti, vice president of the Union of Earthquake Victims of the Metamorphosi area.

Environment and Public Order Minister Costas Laliotis said this week that supporting the earthquake victims had cost the state 200 billion drachmas ($530 million) and that it was repairing damaged buildings.

"We all want a quick and effective restoration of buildings," Laliotis told a news conference. "We will try to speed things up."

In the meantime, the state had secured "satisfactory living conditions" in the temporary units, he said.

Compound residents disagree, citing their battle to win air conditioning in the searing summer heat.

"We told the ministry people that it was either airconditioning units or lining up ambulances to carry heat stroke victims to the hospital," Diamanti said.

Most of the quake survivors said all they wanted was to go back to real homes, but some said they would not rest until they won justice for their loved ones who were killed.

Argyropoulou said they had no idea when they bought their apartment in 1982 that the building had been damaged by a previous quake and hastily patched up.

Relatives have sued some of the engineers responsible for collapsed buildings but there have been no convictions pending a ministry study.

"I want moral justice; those responsible to be punished," Diamanti said. "All of us need this before we can pick up the pieces and go on."

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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