Cyprus: 13 years since Mari explosion that killed 13 people and destroyed economy (video-photos)
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Cyprus: 13 years since Mari explosion that killed 13 people and destroyed economy (video-photos)

Cypriot summers are dotted with tragedies and anniversaries. When the calendars show the last day of June, it is as if something had eclipsed even the sun that bathes the island. In addition, even if one wanted to forget, the signs that say: “Stop. Turkish-occupied territory.”

The July 1974 coup and invasion were not the last tragedies. Just yesterday was the anniversary of the downing of a military helicopter that claimed the lives of the then head of the National Guard, Lieutenant General Evangelos Florakis, and four other officers on July 10, 2002.

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Cyprus: 13 years since Mari explosion that killed 13 people and destroyed economy (video-photos)
Deputy Captain Savas Argyrou
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Defense Minister Kostas Papakostas and National Guard Chief Petros Tsalikidis

By tragic coincidence, today in 2011, at the naval base named “Evangelos Florakis” in Mari, in memory of the general, another tragedy occurred. An explosion that spread death and destruction. An explosion that could have been avoided.

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Funeral of those who died in the explosion

The then-President Demetris Christofias decided to keep a huge shipment of explosives on the island, which had been seized on a ship carrying them from Iran to Syria. The ship was detected by the Americans, who informed Nicosia that its cargo would have to be searched and seized if it violated UN sanctions.

And so it was. However, every proposal to destroy or remove the device was met with refusal or a problem. Then-President Demetris Christofias promised Assad that he would not destroy the explosives, and if he could not find a way to get them to Syria, he would return them to Iran.

The explosives were “stored” (basically stockpiled) outside the Evangelos Florakis naval base in Mari, in completely inappropriate conditions. Even when the containers began to show signs of wear and tear and small explosions occurred, the military instructions were: spray them with water to lower the temperature!

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Victims after the explosion
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Container seizure

“Earthquake and Lava”

At about 4:00 AM on July 11, 2011, a powerful explosion occurred. No one could understand what had happened. The first thought of those who felt the explosion was that there might have been an earthquake. The truth was that it was a real “earthquake”, because the explosion was recorded by seismological institutes.

After a few hours, when almost all of Cyprus was plunged into darkness due to a power outage, reports of an explosion at the Mari naval base began to circulate. The explosion leveled the power plant next to the base.

Information reached the media gradually, because initially no one had a clear picture of what had happened. Those who did know… were all dead.

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The head of the one-man Investigative Commission, Polyviou Polyviou
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Transport of containers after the explosion

When the smoke and dust cleared, it was revealed that 12 people had died and 60 had been injured. A few days later, another injured man died.

Most shocking of all was the revelation that this was the tragedy that those in the know had predicted. The photos released, taken just 24 hours before the explosion, showed explosives canisters being tampered with while some people “danced” on them to prove that there was supposedly no danger. The orders were: “Sprinkle them with water to lower the temperature.” When a fire was observed in the early morning hours of July 11, 2011, instead of ordering an evacuation of the base, the fire department was called to put it out. At 4:00 a.m., with only a few people on the scene, 96 canisters exploded.
Since 2009 they have been stored outside.

The then Minister of Defense Kostas Papakostas, trusting the military, assured that the device was harmless and could be placed even in the yard of his house…

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Power plant disaster

One flash and 13 souls lost

As a result of the explosion, people who tried unsuccessfully to prevent it died:

– Captain Ioannidis Andreas Ioannidis, Navy Commander

– Commander Lambrou Lambros, Commander of the Naval Base

– Senior Sergeant Kleanthous Kleanthis

– Petty Officer Irakleous Michael

– Sailor Christoforou Miltiades

– Sailor Christoforou Christakis

– Fire Department Staff Sergeant Andreas Papadopoulos

– Firefighter Vassilis Krokos

– Firefighter Spyros Tantatis

– Firefighter Panagiotis Theofilou

– Chief Firefighter George Giakoumis

– Firefighter Adamos Adamou

– Sailor Antonis Charalambous (died three days after the accident)

Rubble

Eight years after the tragedy, two shocking videos have emerged that show the scale of the “crime.” They were posted on Facebook by the father of firefighter Panagiotis Theofilou, who died along with 12 other soldiers and firefighters.
In one of the videos, according to a post by Michalis Theofilou, his son can be seen getting out of a fire truck and putting on a head cover while the container is burning.

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Damaged containers before the explosion

The second video, filmed shortly after the tragic explosion, shows the desperate efforts of the SEALs to find wounded or survivors.

Michael Theofilou wrote:

“Eight years since the explosion in Mari. The figure you see in the film is my son Panagiotis Theofilou, firefighter 3520 from EMAK. He gets down from the vehicle and puts on his head protection 25 minutes before the big explosion. Look into the distance, 60 meters from the fire, at the containers whose ceilings had already been breached by the explosions and the fire. It was only a matter of time before the remaining 79 containers with 850 tons of gunpowder heated up and exploded. The ten-ton (vehicle) after the explosion, the photo speaks for itself.
I am so sad, on days like these my soul breaks.
The enormous responsibility lies with the leadership of the National Guard and GDF DIO for the unacceptable, irregular and contrary to the orders in force storage of explosives in the National Guard. They placed 850 tons of explosives from March 2009 to July 2011, exposed to the weather conditions in Cyprus.
A huge responsibility lies with the Fire Department Command. Service management for placing vehicles and personnel in front of 850 tons of explosives to extinguish a fire contrary to operating procedures and regulations. You do not extinguish a fire with explosives, you evacuate the area and establish a safety zone based on the volume (850 tons) and type of explosives, because simply an explosion is inevitable.

The second video shows the first few minutes after the explosion caused by the SEALs entering the scene. In the background, you can see a vehicle half-burning in the rubble.”

No apology, no guilt

The huge loss of life caused by the explosion left little room for the then Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense, Markos Kyprianou and Kostas Papakosta. They resigned, along with the head of the National Guard, Lieutenant General Petros Tsalikidis. The deputy head of the National Guard, Lieutenant General Savvas Argyrou, refused to resign and was dismissed from the cabinet. However, public anger was directed at the then President of the Republic, Demetris Christofias, who in his first statements did not take any responsibility and did not apologize for the tragedy. For several days, thousands of people demonstrated in front of the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, demanding his resignation and punishment of those responsible. Instead of resigning, Demetris Christofias appointed lawyer Polly Polyvios as a one-person commission of inquiry, pledging to respect the findings of the investigation. When the motion concluded that Demetris Christofias bore gross responsibility, he dismissed it and attributed it to malice. He then assigned a new investigation to the police, placing a senior officer in charge, who found no responsibility on the part of Demetris Christofias. Immediately afterwards, Demetris Christofias, exercising his constitutional right, appointed Mr. Iatropoulos as deputy chief of police, despite the fact that he was retiring after a few months!

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Second police investigator Andreas Iatropoulos
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National Guard Chief Petros Tsalakidis

Victory, but not for everyone

The trial that followed initially angered the relatives of the victims because Col. Georgiadis, who was handling the cargo of 96 containers, was not present. By decision of the then Attorney General Peter Clerides, he was changed from a defendant to a prosecution witness, without giving any significant testimony, because the Court considered him completely unreliable. In addition, Lieutenant General Petros Tsalikidis, despite being on the indictment, “escaped” from Cyprus and returned to Greece, refusing to appear before the Court, citing his status as an officer of the Greek army, which did not allow him to be tried in another country. He was tried in 2016 in Greece and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, he was not imprisoned, as he remained free on parole! The Court sentenced the then Minister of Defense Kostas Papakosta and three fire brigade officers to prison terms ranging from three to five years. On appeal, the fire brigade commander Andreas Nikolaou was acquitted. Costas Papakostas died as a convict while under guard at the General Hospital in Nicosia.

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Demonstration of the victims’ families
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Economy shattered

When the explosion occurred, Cyprus’s economy was on the brink of collapse following the start of a major banking crisis that led to a reduction in deposits in 2013. And just as the economy was cooling, the tragedy dealt the final blow.

In addition to the loss of life, the Mari explosion destroyed the power supply system in the free areas of Cyprus. In the summer of 2011, during a heatwave, homes and businesses were left without electricity and were powered for several hours a day on a rotating basis. The solution was to buy electricity from the occupied territories, which caused a sharp increase in prices paid for by consumers, not only in electricity bills but also in products, the prices of which rose sharply, while unemployment began to show its teeth, accompanied by wage cuts for those who were still working.