By Bejay Browne
For more than three years, the Sunday Mail has been reporting on the plight of homeowners on the Limnes estate in Pissouri who have seen their homes crumbling away as the result of a land slippage that first appeared in 2012.
Many properties – houses and apartments – have all been seriously affected. Some of them look like a bomb site, and include the total destruction of homes and gardens. Homes are split apart, walls are bowed, roofs collapsed and gardens and pools destroyed. Roads have buckled. Fissures in the land continue to appear all over the area. The affected area measures around 500 thousand square metres and is increasing. Four families have had to be evicted from their homes.
Despite promises over the years, the authorities have done nothing.
At issue is, of course, responsibility for the destruction and thus the cost.
Does it lie with the developers who started building in the area in the 1980s? Were adequate surveys on the suitability of the land for building purposes carried out? Should the authorities ever have green-lighted building there?
Even if the developers were responsible, the construction happened so long ago, they are now either retired or dead.
Or, is the land slippage a natural disaster that simply could not have been predicted? In which case should the government declare it as such and – as insurers of last resort – help the affected people find a place to live, equal to the ones they have lost?
In 2015, some of the property owners came together to form the Pissouri Housing Initiative Group (PHIG).
PHIG has paid out thousands of euros to obtain studies and papers from various renowned international experts and also satellite imaging, at a cost of 25,000 euros, which measures the movement of the land. According to the study, the movement is up to 40 cm per year, which is a lot when it’s pressing against a house.
What is clear is that month by month, the homes continue to disintegrate and stuck in the middle of the blame game over responsibility and therefore restitution are the residents whose lives have been destroyed.
Some of them are elderly, some have experienced a range of stress-related illnesses, including heart problems. All of them have suffered many sleepless nights. All of them feel trapped.
One of the evicted homes has even been looted, thieves taking what few remaining items owners had left in the property until they could find space for them elsewhere.
Affected residents say they feel alienated and ostracised by some unsympathetic members of the community who say that highlighting their plight in the media has decreased the value of their own, unaffected homes.
Below, three Limnes residents describe how their lives have been shattered.
Debbie Evans, 49, from Wales is a mother of two and has lived in Cyprus since 2005 Debbie’s family bought ‘a lovely detached villa with a pool and garden’ in 2005 and paid around 200,000 Cyprus pounds (341,720 euros). There were no title deeds and they are still waiting, which is another problem.
They are one of the more recent families to be affected by the landslip and first noticed cracks in the patio last year. In the 15 months since, cracks have appeared in the house and the outside ‘has completely gone’.
My husband and I chose to move to Pissouri because other family members live here. Before we moved we had regularly visited for holidays and just fell in love with the village.
We moved here for a better way of life, the children grew up here and speak Greek. They were five and eight when we came out and they went to the local schools. We integrated into the village and felt a part of it.
Now we feel completely alienated, nobody wants to know. They treat us like ‘Oh, they are only expats, they don’t matter.’ That’s the feeling you get. ‘They’re British they can afford it.’ But the fact is we’ve got a mortgage on the property. It’s the only property we’ve got. Like thousands of families, that was our nest egg. When the kids go, you downscale and that goes in the bank to help you. It’s now valueless, the house is worth nothing.
Not only have I got to continue working. I’ve got nothing to leave my kids. That hurts more than anything. I can fight and work on, but I can’t leave my boys anything. I just haven’t got it.
In August 2017 we were getting the house ready for visitors and we noticed a crack in the tiles on our patio outside and my husband filled them in. We didn’t think anything of it.
A couple of weeks later, we realised that the cracks were back and that other ones had appeared.
A large field separates my friend’s house from mine and she had cracks too.
When we looked we found a fissure that goes under my house, across the field and hits my friend’s house, goes under hers and carries on down the road.
When we realised that she had problem too, we started panicking. Also a gentleman across the road put up a retaining wall and the work shook the land that was weak already. We have been back and forth to Limassol district council ourselves. They don’t want to know.
So far our house is not too bad, although cracks are now appearing inside. It’s the outside that’s all completely gone.
The pool has had to be filled in, we had to remove the pergola, the corner of the plot is going. The pool was so close to the house and you could see into the 60ft gap between the pool and the house foundations. It was scary.
The government don’t even pretend to be interested. It’s been terrible, really hard. It’s put so much pressure on us as a family. We have been fighting and arguing more, the stress levels are so high. My boys are 22 and 19 years old now. It’s a nightmare.
The insurance companies don’t want to know of course. They don’t cover a landslip, and they can’t wait to tell you that. So the government has to be the insurer of last resort. It’s not our fault, we bought our house in good faith and had our surveys done. The bank will have done their bit too as we have a mortgage, and it was all done properly.
Cracks have also been reported as appearing at the village amphitheatre nearby.
At what point will they wake up and realise that they are going to lose the entire village? It’s not just a couple of Brits moaning about a couple of cracks in their properties. It’s really serious.
I don’t feel the same as I did before, I don’t sleep, only cat nap. It’s always there. You get up in the morning and open the curtains and there’s a mound of earth where the pool used to be.
You try and switch off, if you didn’t to some degree, it would kill you. But it is so much harder to be joyful and it magnifies other problems.
Retirees Kayt and her husband Peter Field, an 80-year-old former British army colonel, were one of several couples that appeared on the recent BBC programme ‘Inside Out South’ which highlighted the residents’ plight.
The Fields purchased their four-bedroom villa with a ‘fabulous’ garden and pool in 1993, and spent an ‘awful lot of money’ on the property before deciding to retire to Cyprus in 2003, a country they fell in love with when Peter was stationed on the island. Their house was built in 1987 and had no problems before.
It now looks like a bomb site. After being evicted, the pensioners are now having to rent a property nearby and watch their much-loved home continue to disintegrate.
Kayt explains what they’ve been through since they first experienced problems in 2011.
All our money is tied up in this house. We bought it from the owner. We got our title deeds. This was our retirement dream; we’ve spent more years in Cyprus than anywhere else. We knew Pissouri well, had a lot of good friends and loved the village.
We first saw a broken water pipe outside our house in 2011. This could have been something to do with the landslide. Water poured right through our house. It was awful, but we didn’t realise what it could mean or what was to come.
Then, around two years later, a huge sinkhole appeared in our front garden. It was just something strange that happened but we didn’t discuss it with our neighbours.
It was not until 2015 when we went away and came back two weeks later and could see many cracks appearing in the walls that we talked to our neighbours.
Their house had problems inside, like a pistol shot going off and then part of a large archway in their sitting room completely broke away. Then we started getting ‘pistol shots’.
The insurance company completely walked away and said it was obviously a landslide. The insurance rep who came to our home had the audacity to smile at me as he told me that they wouldn’t give us any money. I’m sorry to say I lost it.
After this, many more cracks started to appear. Emotionally it’s just killed us. We were both in hospital this year because of it – it’s total stress all the time. You wake up in the morning with a big heavy cloud over your head and think, ‘Oh no, we have to pay all this rent because we can’t live in our own house.’ And yet we’re so very close to our own home. We go down there and I’ve only just stopped bursting into tears when I see it, but it really is awful.
We got most of our furniture and personal items out in time, but our rented house is far smaller and so we left some items at home. Anything left has since been stolen. The gates to the property are locked but thieves climbed over them to enter. We had so much taken by looters. They have been taking our things since we moved out, garden tools, little bits and pieces from family, like a beer pump, they also took fishing rods and sports equipment.
We didn’t budget for having to rent a house and so we are unable to do a lot of things we used to do.
The authorities have made us feel abandoned. We can’t get to them. We would like to meet the minister of the interior and the president. We would like them to come and see exactly the state of our houses and what is happening to the area. You can’t possibly visualise what it’s like unless you see it. They just put us off. They are not interested. Yet, this is a European country and Europe has a disaster fund.
For husband Peter the lack of empathy from some people has been particularly hurtful.
A lot of people in a smallish village just don’t want to know about it and don’t care. We have been alienated by many people really. Some have said that we are lowering the value of property which is absurd and very hurtful, although it has brought a few of us closer together
I don’t think a day goes by when we don’t see something that reminds us that we don’t have a house anymore. You can see a TV show, people go home. We can’t. Our house is worth nothing. Before all this, we had a lovely time here and we love Cyprus.
I feel incredibly let down. I would ask the people that make decisions how would they like to go to their families and say ‘through no fault of my own, we have lost our home and the terrible thing is that no-one cares about it.’
One or two of us have been told expatriates are not going to get any compensation. That is also very hurtful and it’s against the law.
I have a mixed bag of emotions and helplessness is one of them.
There is a real need for those in authority to demonstrate some empathy for those losing their houses or facing eviction. It is the end of a dream, damage is uninsurable, houses are valueless. Being retired as many are means we can’t generate funds to replace our homes. Children and grandchildren can no longer easily visit. So much of what we all worked very hard for has been lost.