America’s reaction to the destruction of the summer fires in Greece is discussed in this week’s edition of Reportaz Apo Washington, a VOA/Greek television presentation for affiliate stations in Greece, Cyprus and communities of the Hellenic Diaspora. U.S. Representative Gus (Constantinos) Bilirakis (R-FL) is one of the Congressional leaders who came to our studio to express his concern for the people of Greece at this critical hour and to offer hope to those affected by the disaster. Several of his comments were included in this week’s edition of Reportaz Apo Washington. However, other important comments made by the Congressman were edited out in order for the program to meet airing time constraints. Following is the full text of the interview granted by Congressman Bilirakis to VOA.
Transcript of Rep. Gus Bilirakis interview:
Mr. Bistis: Congressman Bilirakis, welcome.
Mr. Bilirakis: Thank you Yiorgo.
Mr. Bistis: You are the co-chairman of the prestigious Hellenic Congressional Caucus, the group that initiates a lot of action in the U.S. House of Representatives in connection with issues involving Greece and Cyprus. What is the Hellenic Caucus doing to assist the victims of the fires in Greece and has the Caucus developed any plans that may deal with the reconstruction of the areas affected?
Mr. Bilirakis: What we want to do is get input from the Greek government. I’ve talked with Greek Secretary General of Information Panos Livadas, over the break; this is our first day back in Washington. We’ve been talking over the telephone, my aids and the aides of Congressmen John Sarbanes and Zack Space have been getting together; and we’ve been talking on the telephone to the government because we want to get the input from the Greek government and the Greek people on this.
I also plan to talk to Fran Townsend who is the Undersecretary of Homeland Security. What we want to do is have a meeting immediately and get briefed by the Ambassador as well. It is a tragedy and my heart goes out to the Greek people. We are very proud Greek Americans and we are all united. We are going to do whatever we can to help the people of Greece. I know we have already sent some aid over there, including fire kits. And our government will also provide federal assistance, about 1.2 million dollars. We will reassess the situation to ensure that what we do is enough. Our heart goes out and we are going to help them.
Mr. Bistis: Congressman Bilirakis, you represent a district of Florida, with a large Greek American constituency, including the picturesque harbor city of Tarpon Springs, which was established by sponge divers from the Greek islands of Kalymnos and Syros.
Mr. Bilirakis, Yes, Kalymnos, Siros, Simi, Halki and a few others. But the main islands were Kalymnos, Simi and Halki.
Mr. Bistis: Very good. Since you just flew in from Tarpon Springs this afternoon what is the mood of the community members there about the tragic events in Greece and what do they do in terms of helping out?
Mr. Bilirakis: Τhe people in Tarpon Springs are very upset. They have a lot of relatives in Greece who suffer. As you know, after the original sponge divers came, a lot of other immigrants from all over Greece also settled in Tarpon Springs and in the areas around it. It is a somber mood today. We pray for the people of Greece. They are our brothers and sisters. We have a great love for and a great connection with the people of Greece. We are going to help out financially. As a matter of fact I’m going to go back to Florida in the next few days to work on organizing a fundraiser for the people of Greece. We will do anything we can to help.
Mr. Bistis: As I understand it, right now they have started a telethon in your district trying to collect funds for the victims of the fires in Greece and this telethon will continue for the next five to seven days depending on the response.
Mr. Bilirakis: Yeah , we have an organization, I was just emailed on the way up. We are also going to advertise to the newspapers how crucial for us it is to help out financially.
Mr. Bistis: Congressman Bilirakis, thank you very much for being with us today.
Mr. Bilirakis: My pleasure.
Mr. Bistis: I greatly appreciate that you came directly from the airport to be a part of this program.
Mr. Bilirakis: Anything we can do to help.
Mr. Bistis: All the very best.
Mr. Bilirakis: Thank you Yiorgo.