Mari Residents Still Picking Up Pieces After Explosion
Mari village residents are still picking up the pieces of their lives and fixing damage to their property after the deadly explosion at the nearby naval base Evangelos Florakis on July 11th, said community leader Nikos Asprou.
"We are working hard on fixing our buildings, but anyone can see how bad the damage was," he said in an interview with CyprusNewsReport.com.
Mari suffered the most damage in the blast and the residents' lives were severely affected.
"Like everyone in Cyprus, but especially us, we had great difficulty psychologically in the first few days after the explosion...Without the peoples' support it would have been much harder," he said.
There was an incredible community response to the distress in Mari, said the council leader, who also commended the state for standing by the village.
"Everyone stood by us, and the state is close to us, helping to fix the damage," he said.
The community leader expects a large crowd to turn up in the village on Saturday September 17th to show their continued wholehearted support, he said.
But the tragic accident, which killed 13 men and injured 62, could have been avoided had the situation been properly managed, said Asprou. He believes that Polys Polyviou's investigation into the accident at Evangelos Florakis is working well and that blame for the accident will be assigned to those responsible.
Yesterday, September 13th, former head of the national guard Petros Tsalikides testified to Polyviou that in 2009, he recommended that the confiscated arms which exploded at the base should have been kept away from residential areas, and it was not clear who took the decision to store them at Mari. The army was only responsible for guarding the cargo seized from Iran en route to Syria in 2009, he said. And the storage of the 98 containers was only supposed to be temporary, he testified.
Tsalikides - who resigned after the explosion - said he sent several letters to the Minister of Defence warning of the dangers of keeping explosives stored outdoors in high temperatures. The ministry of defence subsequently warned the foreign ministry about the potential problem and asked for a decision on what to do with the weapons. On December 14th, 2009, former foreign minister Markos Kyprianou informed the ministry of defence that the political decision had not changed.
As late as February 7th, 2011, the ministry of defence was concerned and anxious about the state of the explosives and held a meeting with the foreign ministry, said Tsalikides. At this meeting, Kyprianou asked for samples from the containers to be sent to Greece for testing, with a view to selling the cargo to un-named buyers. But the samples were never sent to Greece or even to the state laboratory and on July 4th, Tsalikides said he was informed that one of the containers was bulging at the sides due to pressure building up inside it. Although he realised the situation was dangerous, he did not realise the true depth of the problem, he said. There were no reports of any need to evacuate the naval base, said Tsalikides.
On the morning of the explosion, he received a call from navy commander Andreas Ioannides, who told him that explosives in the containers had ignited and that he was going on-site to see what was happening. At 5am, the commander called him again to order firefighting helicopters. Tsalikides said that during both phone calls, he urged the commander to take care of his personal safety and the safety of sailors at the base. But it was too late. The commander and 12 other men fighting the fire with him were killed in the explosion.
A new navy commodore has still not been appointed by the government.
In more testimony, firefighter Michalis Theophilou - whose son died in the accident - said that firefighters were not informed that there were high explosives in the containers. Top officials from the fire and rescue services investigated the July 4th explosion at the base, but never passed on the information to the rest of the department. So instead of keeping a distance of at least 1600 metres, firefighters at the scene on July 11th were simply too close. The base should have been evacuated as of July 4th after the first explosion, he said.