THESSALONIKI, Greece – Dozens of villagers in northwestern Greece have evacuated their homes after a lignite mine nearby collapsed.
All 182 inhabitants of the village of Anargyroi have been housed in hotels after leaving their homes, some of which are already collapsing in the unstable soil, a village official told The Associated Press.
"Some houses have been split in half," said Giorgos Pinopoulos, the village's deputy mayor.
The government had warned six years ago that the mine posed a threat and the village should be relocated. It had passed legislation that would allow the village to relocate on expropriated land, with the cost of relocation split in half between the Greek state and state-owned electricity company PPC, which operates the mine.
But nothing had been done to implement the legislation since, with the state alleging it was short of funds because of the financial crisis that hit Greece in 2008 and has resulted in severe budget cuts.
Finally, after the villagers were forced to evacuate Saturday night, environment and energy minister George Stathakis announced Sunday, after conferring with PPC managers, that the land expropriation necessary to move the village to safer ground would proceed immediately, through a legislative decree.
"If what the minister announced is implemented, we are satisfied," said Costas Theodoridis, mayor of the nearby town of Amyntaio, where the mine is located.
PPC said Saturday the mine had been in operation until June 3, when it was shut down for safety reasons. The company added that the collapse began Saturday morning and was much larger than anticipated, with about 80 million cubic meters (2.8 billion cubic feet) of soil having been displaced at the time of the announcement.
The landslide continues. "PPC told us that (the landslide) will continue for four to five more days. It is only then that we will fully assess the damage," Theodoridis said.
Some residents were allowed to go to the village Sunday to get their belongings, but police are otherwise keeping the approaching road closed and will do so until July 24, local police said.
The village had up to 700 inhabitants a few years ago, but many had left, fearing the mine would eventually engulf their homes. The remaining villagers were mostly shepherds, tending to sheep flocks, with some also involved in beekeeping and meat and agricultural product packaging.
Lignite remains a major source of electricity in Greece, despite being its highly polluting nature. Half-hearted state attempts to replace lignite with renewable sources have met with heavy resistance, especially in the province of western Macedonia, where most lignite mines and lignite-fed power plants are and thousands of jobs depend on them.
The PPC employees' union has also opposed the change. Earlier this month, it came out in support of President Donald Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord, saying that climate change is a "myth" propagated by business interests that stand to profit from "green growth" at "the expense of the less powerful."
Demetris Nellas contributed to this report from Athens, Greece.
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