Dr. Olga Sarantopoulos--Mission in the Peloponnese

Secretary of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE)

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"Human pain and scenes of the unprecedented ecological destruction have marked me for life. Our own contribution, as Hellenes around the world, in the aftermath will be decisive."

With this statement the Secretary of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad ("SAE") Dr. Olga Sarantopoulos, describes her experiences from her recent visit mission in the region of the Prefecture of Ilia, which was affected by the deadly fires.

The secretary of SAE, moved by the drama of our fellow countrymen, visited the residents of the affected areas. She was briefed by the local officials on the situation that has prevailed now, only a few days after the fires.

Dr. Sarantopoulos helped in the distribution of supplies, offered by entrepreneurs from the surrounding regions, and has treated elder residents suffering from burns.

"Enormous dimensions of ecological destruction are involved; entire regions have turned into ashes. The natural landscape has changed, not a trace of life exists, everywhere the burnt smell is prevalent, and the residents of this place, proud people, armed with wilfulness, but brought to despair by this event, they look at their properties that were lost, the now decimated forests that they knew as small children, and the businesses and livelihoods that were destroyed. It is something indescribable," said Dr. Sarantopoulos.

Dr. Sarantopoulos, accompanied by the Vice-president of AHEPA-Greece, Dr, Athanassios Sarantopoulos, a graduate of the University of Akron, Ohio in the United States, in charge of the Educational Affairs of AHEPA, the largest Hellenic American organization, and executive of the Department of Defense in the National Meteorological Service,as well as a team of medical doctors, including the psychiatrist Andreas Athanasopoulos,originated from Ilia, traveled to the three municipalities of Pyrgos, Amaliados, and Skillountos of the prefecture of Ilia, which suffered the most significant destruction. She also traveled to the prefecture of Arcadia, where her family has roots, and to the village of Karitaina.

Specifically, Dr. Sarantopoulos visited the following areas: in the Municipality of Pyrgos- Pyrgos, Ancient Olympia, Pelopio, Barvassaina, and Smila; in the municipality Olenis- Magoula, Oleni, Saint Anna, Pefki, Moyzaki, the settlement of Varaka in Karatoyla; in the Municipality of Folois- New Persaina, Neraida, Milies, Lalas. She also visited Krestena, the Springs of Kaifa springs, Vrina, Zacharo, Artemida, Makistos, Platiana, where she met with the president of the community Thanasis Adamopoulos and finally, Andritsaina.

Dr. Sarantopoulos was informed on the situation that prevails in the days following the fires, but also on the needs of those injured by the fires by the Director of the Hospital of Pyrgos Mr. Antonis Leftaki.

She expressed to him her desire to become a volunteer in the hospital, in order to help the victims of the fires, primarily elder residents in the regions where there is need.

In ancient Olympia, the Dr. Sarantopoulos met with the mayor of Ancient Olympia Mr. George Aidonis and the mayor of Aigaleou Athens, the President of the local Union of Municipalities and Communities of the Attica Prefecture, Mr. Dimitri Kalogeropoulo.

"In many regions, electricity and telephone services have yet to be restored, as the networks were destroyed by the fires, and there is no water supply.

From my discussion with people, I was informed about the immediate problems that they encounter. The problem that the young entrepreneurs of these regions also face is serious, as they have lost their businesses – and the futures for them and their families is uncertain.

If they do not build their businesses quickly, they will emigrate and desolation will befall this place. In all these regions, people, animals, homes and properties were lost."

During her trip, the Secretary of SAE became a witness of human drama that unfolded through the narrations of the people who experienced this tragedy.

"A lot of elderly people literally waged battle with the flames and they saved their houses as they said to me. All speak of arson."

In Magoula, Dr. Sarantopoulos visited the mayor of village Mr. Dimitri Gourgouli, whose house was burned to the ground, and she met with Mr. Kostas Liaromatis, a local councilor, who accompanied the delegation to the municipality of Olenis, where he showed them the destruction of the crops and properties – more than 5,000 olive groves and 15 houses were completely destroyed.

"In Saint Anna I had the opportunity to converse with the residents, I saw the president of the local council of Saint Anna, a young person, who literally waged battle with the flames. They are proud people.

They lost not only their houses but also the farming, olive trees, walnuts, and crops of raisins, olive presses, sheep, and chickens, all of which helped the local economy and put food on the table for those people. I had the opportunity to speak with the president of the association of the Holy Trinity Platianas, Mr. Yannis Tsiare, who managed to survive the flames with two of his goats hidden under wet food," said Dr. Sarantopoulos.

During this journey, one of the most characteristic stories was the one of a Swedish, a Philhellene, who moved permanently to Greece in 1964 and whose house was lost in the fire, with the only thing left behind being a Greek flag. His name is Ingmar Karlsson, and his friends call him "Oscar".

"These people need immediate support, moral as well as material. The reforestation should be undertaken immediately because the destruction by the ground subsidence and the floods will create even bigger problems. This is the reason the residents of these regions are concerned," declared Dr. Sarantopoulos.

"I call on the Omogenia to contact directly the local organizations and municipalities and to offer, as soon as possible, their aid to the people who have suffered. Help in the form of food and first aid flows in continuously from various corners of Greece, but there should also be an urgent plan of reconstruction, that would also provide comfort for the fire victims."

(Posting date 25 September 2007)

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