‘Shake as much as you can!’ say the Kefalonians

‘Shake as much as you can!’ say the Kefalonians

“Shake as much as you want, you will not get us down. You did it in 1953, you will not succeed now,” says one of the posts on social media by a Kefalonian who apparently was among the thousands of inhabitants of this big Greek island on the Ionian Sea hit by a major earthquake two Sundays ago.

A 5.9 quake hit the island on the afternoon of Jan. 26 caused no human loss but extensive damage to properties and infrastructure. More than 10 days later the island is still shaking with powerful aftershocks; in the capital Argostoli and second largest city, Lixouri, 500 out of 1,000 houses that have been checked so far have been found to be uninhabitable. Large cracks on the main roads have cut off towns and villages while thousands of frightened Kefalonians are spending their nights either in their cars or in the several large ferries or even warships which have been moored at the main ports of the island. The two general hospitals, several schools and other public buildings have suffered serious damage. The residents of the Municipal Old People Home were all transferred on beds and wheelchairs away from their cracked building to spend the night onboard one of the anchored ships.

It was the last problem that the Samaras government needed at the moment with his government’s popularity lagging behind his main rival and with the local and Euro elections not very far ahead. Kefalonia was added to his problems and was used by the opposition as another reason to attack him.

Obviously that was the reason why the prime minister changed his program last week and instead of flying back to Athens from Brussels, he stopped on the way, in Kefalonia, but only to be met by angry citizens who confronted him with questions like “What am I supposed to do, I lost my home and have nowhere to go.”

Kefalonia was a place that would last come to mind when you think of recession. It is a prosperous island with one of the highest per capita incomes in Greece, with a prosperous shipping community and a thriving tourism sector which got a big boost during the last decade after the international success of the film “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” with Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz. Actually Cruz was one of the celebrities who sent her sympathies to the ailing island hit by such a disaster.

I come from Kefalonia’s next-door island to the east: Ithaki. There, my relatives were happier as they were “only shaking.” Very little damage, as the epicenter was to the west of Kefalonia. Inhabitants of both islands have been frustrated for some time as the crisis in Greece has created a serious problem for them: A lack of transportation.

These two islands stuck mid-way between Greece and Italy have got many things in common. They have been hit by disastrous earthquakes in the past, the biggest being in 1953 which almost flattened both of them. Since the economic crisis hit Greece, they have had to deal with a dramatic decrease in the number of boat connections with the mainland this winter. Daily ferry connections run by the private sector are being reduced drastically as fuel costs are high and the number of passengers is not high enough for the ship owner to include Ithaki in its daily trips.

But they have another thing in common: their humor. Here is what they compiled as a list of things to do when earthquake strikes: “Do not run around shouting ‘earthquake’: we all know it. Do not attempt to go down the stairs – the floor will go down with you. Do not try to find the mayor. He has escaped abroad. Do not all run for the fire exit. There is no such exit.”

The 1953 earthquake was 7.2 and was the most destructive ever in Greece. The Kefalonians and Ithakians survived and they refuse to leave their place. I am sure they will do the same now in spite of everything.