The 44-year-old farmer survived miraculously by spending hours under an irrigation water pipe, surrounded by flames - Copyright AFP -
By Alexandros KOTTIS
Stunned, Kostis Angelou wanders between the corpses of his goats, all 372 of them burnt by a fire that devoured forests on Evia island in Greece. “I’m lost,” he sighs, “I can’t take it anymore.”
The goats lie on the two flanks of a hill blackened by the blaze that burnt for more than a week in the north of Greece’s second biggest island.
Up there, in the middle of the forest, the 44-year-old farmer survived miraculously by spending hours under an irrigation water pipe, surrounded by flames.
“A saint saved me,” Angelou says.
There is a crushing silence, only broken by the rustle of dried leaves in the breeze.
At the foot of lifeless tree trunks lie the eviscerated bodies of charred animals in a cloud of flies, a sickening smell in the air.
A horn is visible through the bare branches and blackened trees, a jawbone too, in what has become an open-air cemetery on a carpet of ashes.
Angelou surveys the damage, his face haggard, eyes sunken into his face.
He kneels, takes his head in his hands: “Let them bury them, I don’t want to see them anymore.”
– Start ‘from scratch’-
Angelou left school aged 12. Since then, he has raised goats, one of many herds in Evia’s northeast.
“For more than 30 years, 365 days a year,” he says.
“My heart has to calm down, I’ve got to start everything again from scratch,” he whispers.
He says his father worked for 50 years to get “such a herd. If he comes here, he will faint”.
Over in the family home in the tiny village of Kerasia, Spyros Angelou, 73, is finding it hard to come to terms with the disaster.
“We’re finished, what do you want us to do?” he asks, sitting at a table in the courtyard.
“I grew up with these creatures.
“The pines burned, the fields burned, the animals burned. We’re going to be hungry. What will we eat? How are we going to live?”
Nestled in the rolling hills, Kerasia is surrounded by devastation. The flames stopped on the doorstep of the primary school, and the steep streets were saved by local residents.
Kostis Angelou is the father of an 11-year-old, and hopes for a different future for him.
“My son used to accompany me everywhere whenever he had time. It’s better if he never gets involved in breeding and finds another job,” he says.
Officials came to check on the damage done to estimate how much compensation they could get, and he should be getting money for each of his lost goats.
Some small rehabilitation works have also started already.
Angelou sighs: “Houses are easily rebuilt, nature is another story.”