70,000 left homeless by Athens quake

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The Independent Online
AT FIRST there was relief that the devastation of Tuesday's earthquake was not much worse. Then came joy as victims feared dead were plucked from beneath the rubble. But yesterday, with hopes of finding further survivors fading, Greece woke to the realities of its calamity.

Tent cities began springing up as the estimated number of homeless leapt from 16,000 to 70,000. The government put the cost of reconstruction at pounds 200m, and inspectors painted crosses on hundreds of properties - green for safe, yellow for temporarily uninhabitable and red for condemned.

The mood turned as the death toll topped 100 and Costas Simitis, the Prime Minister, appointed five prosecutors to find evidence of negligent or illegal building. More than 8,000 extra officers were drafted into the worst affected areas, north-east of the capital, to deter looters. And for the first time came the stench of bodies from beneath collapsed buildings.

Until now, the number of homeless had been low because families were reluctant to leave possessions. Many have been camping outdoors, as had families whose properties were safe but who feared aftershocks. It is now clear that many of those assumed to be taking precautions were victims protecting what was left of their property.

Government and Red Cross tents have been erected in Menidi, Metamorfosi, Nea Philadelphia and Liossia. The authorities said they were providing 12,000 tents. In one tent, on municipal land near the Menidi football ground - which holds 85 families - are 20 members of the Mavnidridou family, with three children aged five, three and two.

"It's OK for now, but we wouldn't like to live like this for long," said Stavroula Mavnidridou. "At the moment, most people realise they are lucky to be alive. We had a three-storey building with an apartment on each floor, but when the quake came, it shook like a leaf.

"All the walls cracked and it slipped down at an angle. But we managed to get out safely - that's the main thing. The weather isn't too bad at the moment and people are bringing us food, but this will not be good when it grows colder."

Some complain that the government is not acting quickly enough. Dr Stefania Torakis, a Medecins du Monde paediatrician working in the Menidi stadium, said most people were well. "There are a few cases of stress and anxiety, but general health and the temporary conditions are fine," she said.

Near by, however, hundreds were queuing noisily - some angrily - outside the government building in Menidi where emergency payments of 200,000 drachmas (about pounds 400) were being made. The government has also promised that families and businesses would be given one-third of the cost of rebuilding their home or business, and the government would provide interest-free loans over 15 years to fund the reconstruction.

Outside the government offices, applicants were filling in forms to claim compensation. All that was required was an identity card and a certificate from a government engineer. Some are talking of the potential for corruption.

Rows of civil servants sat at trestle tables taking down details. Some claimants were unhappy. "Look at this," said one man, shaking his form. "What will this get me? I have lost my home and my livelihood, they haven't even found a tent for my family yet, and all I get is enough money for maybe a week."

The government is preparing exhibition halls, sports centres, hotels and even cruise ships to house those displaced during what can be a chilly winter.

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