The President of the European Commission, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, meeting with firefighters and the Disaster Response Special Unit for the catastrophic fire in the mountain areas of Limassol and Larnaca (Photo: PIO)

Von der Leyen praises firefighters, given key to burnt house

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised the firefighters and rescue teams who were on the front line of the devastating fires that ravaged through 55 of Cyprus forests over the weekend, and destroyed hundreds of homes in rural Limassol and Larnaca.

Four Egyptian farmhands, who were trapped when the fire approached their home, died in the blaze and their bodies were found later on Saturday.

The Cabinet decided on Wednesday to compensate the families of the victims, while providing financial aid to those who lost their homes and their businesses.

The aid package is estimated at €6 mln, in addition to €18 mln to be used for the purchase of firefighting equipment.

Each family of the four fire victims will receive €95,000, and €35,000 for each orphaned child. And when they grow up, they will be entitled to free university education in Cyprus. Two of the young men did not have families of their own, but one had three children and another hade five.

Visiting the village of Ora, von der Leyen was presented with a mangled key of a burnt house.

“When I go home, I will show it to my children and I will tell them that in Cyprus there is a door that awaits its key to be opened, and for this reason I shall return,” she said.

“I came with a heavy heart and with utmost respect. A heavy heart, because I heard that you lost four young people in the fire. It must be terrible and our thoughts, as well as my heart goes out to their families and friends, but also the entire community.”

“But I also come with a heart that feels complete respect to the firefighters, the Forestry Service who worked day and night to save lives, to put out fires by risking their own lives. And for that my heart feels utmost respect to all of you,” von der Leyen said.

The Commission chief added that, “Europe is by your side and will remain so until you reinstate the area.

“We immediately mobilised the EU rescue programme. I hope the airplanes helped and your government was wise to allocate €18 mln from the Recovery Fund for equipment to the Fire Service.

“The forest will be reborn. Your concerns are the concerns of the European family, and the solidarity you show to each other is the solidarity that Europe will show to you,” she concluded.

In his response, President Anastasiades said that his government took a series of decisions to help the communities with generous aid, “for the rebirth of beautiful Ora and the rest of the communities.”

The July 3 and 4 fires engulfed Ora, Arakapas, Eptagonia, Ayioi Vavatsinias, Melini and Odou, while a fire in Paphos a week earlier caused destruction to Tala.

A total of 98 housing and farming units were destroyed, in addition to vehicles, agricultural equipment, generators, etc., valued at €5.6 mln.

Apart from the cost of replacement, rebuilding and to support enterprises, workers will be reimbursed for loss of earnings, unlicensed premises will be allowed some relaxations, social insurance fund payments for July to September will be deferred and children attending community nurseries and rural schools will receive free meals, grants for tutorials and other subsidies.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen receiving the key to a burnt house from Ora community leader Aristos Miltiadous (Photo: PIO)