By George Psyllides
A SENIOR member of parliament called on Wednesday for an investigation into claims that authorities failed to take the necessary measures to protect public health during a large blaze in Limassol that burnt throughout the weekend.
House Labour Committee chairman, AKEL MP Andreas Fakontis, said the blaze at the department store in the Ayios Athanasios commercial zone resulted in east Limassol being covered in smoke and fumes the entire weekend.
He asked the labour minister to launch a probe into whether labour inspectors had failed to immediately carry out the necessary measurements and protect public health.
Fakontis questioned the adequacy of measurements carried out automatically by two stations in Limassol and the absence of labour inspectors from the site, as well as the two-day delay in getting mobile units to the area to carry out air quality measurements.
Stelios Orphanides, a resident of the area, told the Cyprus Mail that he had problems breathing and could not sleep over the weekend because of the noxious smell.
“No one told us whether to keep windows closed or not,” he said, nor were they given any form of advice. “Nothing.”
Ayios Athanasios mayor Kyriacos Hadjittofis criticised the way the incident had been handled by the labour inspection department which apparently left residents in the dark over the weekend.
People who worked in the area were asked to stay away on Monday. “I think we should have reacted the same way on Saturday and Sunday regarding residents who breathed in – those who remained at home — various particles from the fire,” Hadjittofis said.
He said the municipality asked residents to leave their homes from the first moment because of the noxious fumes in the air. Many were also calling and asking for information about the quality of the air they and their children were breathing, the mayor said.
“No measurement was needed to confirm that what they were inhaling could create health problems but it would have been better if there was a scientific measurement at that moment on behalf of the authorities and people were informed instead of waiting for two days,” he said.
The fire broke out at 2.40pm on Saturday and burned throughout the weekend and Monday after an accident in the department store’s production department.
Employees had tried to put it out without success and the fire spread rapidly to other parts of the premises where chemicals were stored.
Smoke and skin irritations caused by the burning chemical made the fire fighters’ task more difficult.
Limassol’s district labour office had said that measurements showed the smoke posed no danger to the area’s schools but Yermasogia B elementary school pupils were told to remain inside on Monday.
Meanwhile, fire and crime scene investigators were unable to enter the building yesterday because it has been rendered structurally unsafe.
Police said it was awaiting permission from the experts to enter the building and carry out the necessary investigation into the causes of the blaze.