In early August, the Greek island of Evia was hit by a catastrophic flood that killed eight people and caused incalculable destruction. In the wake of the disaster, residents found their homes and possessions destroyed. They were left to wonder how they could ever recover from this catastrophe.
Now, a group of mechanics from Athens has volunteered to fix vehicles that were heavily damaged in the flood as soon as they saw the aftermath of the natural disaster.
The flooding was caused by the extraordinary amounts of rainfall that fell over a relatively short period of time. While the weather forecast had called for 63 mm (2.5 inches) of rain, Evia was deluged by 300 mm (11.8 inches) in just 8 hours, making the natural disaster one of the most devastating in the region’s history.
Tragically, eight people, including one infant, lost their lives in the terrible storm. Thousands of homes on Evia were flooded with water and mud, and many cars were swept away into the sea by torrents of water.
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The amount of damage left by the flood is simply unimaginable. The most heavily-impacted regions on the island were Psachna, Politika, Bourtzi, Vasilikou and Lefkandi.
Upon seeing images of the destruction left in the wake of the flood, car aficionado Vasilis Papanikitas decided to go to Evia with his friends to help the residents there. “It started when I saw the cars in Bourtzi that were destroyed. People were saying that local mechanics didn’t believe that the cars could be repaired, and they should be discarded,” he explains.
Although Papanikitas is not a professional mechanic, but a cafe owner – his ‘Cafe Racer’ is a popular spot among car aficionados, in the Athenian suburb of Kifissia – he’s happy that he has now proved them wrong.
“I really like cars and I love repairing them. I couldn’t accept that the cars couldn’t be fixed. Nearly every car can be fixed,” he stated as he cleaned car parts that had been covered in mud during the flood.
The six-member team started by Papanikitas is made up a of a group of friends who are passionate about cars. All from Kifissia, they met at Cafe Racer and have now known each other for years.
The reality of repairing these water-logged cars is very different from working in the average garage, and requires time to come up with ingenious solutions to difficult problems. “Out of necessity, you have to work with a completely different mindset, and in a totally different way” when fixing flooded cars, notes Papanikitas.
He attested to the almost-unimaginable level of destruction, stating that he has seen vehicles that had been completely filled with mud up to their roofs.
Sotiris Notaropoulos, a member of the team of volunteer mechanics, said that the members do actually have some experience with this kind of work. “I’ve seen many cars like this, like in Megara, where there was a large flood a few years ago. We helped there as well — we fixed 70 cars,” he recalls with pride.
And Evia residents are extremely grateful for the team’s help. A local woman, Mary Aslamatzidou described her harrowing experience in the flood, recalling being jolted awake by flood sirens blaring in the early morning, with water already entering her home.
As the water levels continued to rise, she rushed her family to the rooftop terrace, where they watched the destruction unfold before their eyes. Aslamatzidou remembers seeing empty cars being swept away by the raging floodwaters.
However, even after the flood had finally abated, the destruction was still not over. When she went down the stairs to assess the damage to her home, Aslamatzidou found it chock full of mud. She is now staying in a relative’s home, as hers is still unfit for her and her family to live in.
The volunteer team of Athens mechanics worked on Aslamatzidou’s vehicle, which had also been heavily damaged in the flood. Recalling seeing them for the first time, she says “When the mechanics first came, I thought that surely someone had hired them. Then I learned that they were volunteers — I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!”
To show her gratitude, she made them a delicious pastitsio. Papanikitas was very moved by her generosity, and believes that this act encompasses the true nature of Hellenism. “She doesn’t have a house to live in, yet she cooked pastitsio for us to eat and enjoy. That’s what makes a true Greek, and we can’t forget that,” he says.
He continued, explaining, “To me, to be Greek means to volunteer… to always smile, to be good-hearted, and to help one’s fellow man.”
When asked if you have to be rich to be a philanthropist, Papanikitas answered “Not at all. You just have to have philotimo.”