|Friday, 22 February 2019|
Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-08-25
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Premier declares state of emergency due to wildfires, points to arson; death toll 46Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Saturday pointed directly to arson as a behind an unparalleled wave of wildfires that ravaged the country, particularly the southern Peloponnese, speaking during a brief nationally televised address, where he also declared a 'state of emergency' in the east Mediterranean country.
Karamanlis spoke as the official death toll from the intense wildfires rose to 44, although an undetermined number of missing individuals will probably raise the figure.
"I am angered. I feel the same anger as you. So many wildfires, at the same time in so many different parts of the country cannot be a coincidence," Karamanlis stressed, while calling on citizens to be vigilant and to aid efforts at containing the blazes.
Additionally, the prime minister listed off a series of measures to aid fire-stricken areas and families affected by the disaster, including the families of victims.
At one point, Karamanlis referred to the "heart-felt grief" he feels for a mother discovered clutching her children, victims of a wildfire near Zaharo, in the western Peloponnese.
The unprecedented conflagration that has engulfed much of the historic Peloponnese peninsula - home to ancient Olympia and ancient Sparta, among others -- as well as other provinces around the country was fanned since Thursday by gale-force winds, heat and widespread suspicions of arson.
The biggest problem was reported in Ilia prefecture of the western Peloponnese, facing the Ionian Sea, where the area surrounding the Zaharo township was literally scorched. Thirty-one deaths were reported from this area alone, as most villages were evacuated, although numerous residents in the Zaharo township remained trapped on Saturday morning, authorities said. Main highways in the Peloponnese were blocked off throughout Saturday while mobile phone connections and land lines were also affected.
Other major wildfires were still raging on the western slopes of Mt. Taygetus, further south, as well as off Mt. Parnonas, in central Arcadia prefecture, all in the Peloponnese, where three major wildfire fronts alone erupted on Thursday and Friday. The fire brigade on Friday reported scores of wildfires, most dubbed 'suspicious', throughout Greece, including one in the Corinth area that erupted after fire engines and fire-fighters were dispatched to other blazes.
Efforts were also being made to evacuate a handful of villages near the Arcadia prefecture, central Peloponnese, town of Megalopoli, with the town itself threatened. Six deaths were reported in the fires that hit Arcadia.
Indication of arson in Athens blaze
Rags and small gas canisters were discovered by local officials at the site where a wildfire on the slopes of Mt. Hymettus, facing the greater Athens area from the east, mysteriously erupted just after noon on Saturday. The blaze was later placed under control by a large contingent of fire-fighters.
Additionally, eyewitnesses reported explosions prior to the fire's eruption on Hymettus, whereas what was described as a homemade incendiary device was found on another mountain range north of Athens, on Mt. Dionysus. Television footage from the site showed what appeared to be a burned fuel can and a cell phone, although authorities shied away from officially ruling arson as the cause.
Moreover, the fire brigade reported that several emergency calls to its emergency centre were hoaxes, with only the Hymettus blaze active in the greater Athens area on Saturday afternoon, as the upper fringes of eastern Athens districts of Papagou, Kesariani and Zografou continue to be threatened.
The wildfire on the lower slopes of the Mt. Hymettus came as dozens of blazes continued to rage around the country. The greater Athens area was blanketed by white smoke and soot throughout the afternoon due to the Hymettus blaze. Another suspicious blaze, meanwhile, later erupted in the eastern Attica town of Keratea.
Additionally, parts of the Styra district in southern Evia island were evacuated on Saturday, as an extensive wildfire was burning in the area, south of the area where a destructive wildfire erupted in mid July. The Styra municipality along with four other municipalities on Evia island, off the eastern coast of mainland Grecee, were declared in a state of emergency on Saturday afternoon.
President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Saturday morning toured the fire-ravaged region of Ilia, in the western Peloponnese, and was briefed on the situation by local officials.
Papoulias expressed his grief for the victims of the wildfires, stressing that he felt like they belonged to his own family. "Let's hope, they are the last," he added.
On his part, following an emergency meeting in Sparta, Premier Karamanlis referred to a "national day of mourning" and an "unspeakable tragedy".
"Today is a day of national mourning; since yesterday we are experiencing a national tragedy. I would like to express my deep-felt grief for the lost lives and my sincere condolences to the families mourning their loved ones," Karamanlis said, adding that the state is mobilising all its forces to extinguish the fires.
"This hour demands responsibility, sacrifice. This is an hour of battle. Once again, I would like to stress that all Greeks support and trust the people fighting to end this nightmare," the primer minister said.
After the emergency meeting in Sparta, Karamanlis was returning to Athens for a noon meeting of high-ranking government officials to deal with the catastrophe. The premier also spoke by phone with President Karolos Papoulias, who is also headed to the Peloponnese.
Main opposition PASOK party leader George Papandreou also arrived in the Zaharo area at dawn, where he was briefed by local officials on the extent of the destruction.
In later statements, Papandreou referred to "a national tragedy", while expressing his "devastation and grief."
Papandreou, following his tour of Ilia prefecture earlier in the day, stated that he "participates and suffers together with those affected and stands by all, who, with heroism, are giving the battle for extinguishing the fires."
"It is not the time for assigning responsibility but for alertness â¦ there are responsibilities and they are great and national â¦ it is better for the residents of the affected regions to speak out."
Finally, PASOK issued a press release noting that Papandreou spoke on the phone the same day with EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas to request the utmost assistance by the Union's cohesion fund to deal with the catastrophe.
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga on Saturday called on citizens to contribute in the combating of the wildfires sweeping the country.
Papariga, who visited Zaharo in the western Peloponnese, said that "at this moment words are futile," the grief is self-evident."
She called on KKE members and supporters "to be completely at the disposal to the service of the local authorities, agencies and officials, to support the inhabitants and contribute to any problems they can."
Coalition of the Left (Synaspismos) leader Alekos Alavanos on Saturday visited the fire-ravaged region of Zaharo in the western Peloponnese. At noon, he also visited the nearby Pyrgos hospital, where many of the injured were transported.
In these difficult hours of national tragedy, society is flooded by sentiments of grief and outrage. Grief over the loss of human lives, country's natural wealth and crops, and the lost livestock, the destroyed houses and property. Outrage because the New Democracy government, protected in the air conditioned halls of Maximos Mansion (the prime minister's office), provided the minimal forces of an already collapsed state apparatus," a Syriza announcement charged.
Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) leader George Karatzaferis, in an announcement, expressed his opposition to "any effort to postpone the elections."
From the Parnitha wildfire we said that we have to confront a war, and we asked the state to act accordingly. Even now, the confrontation of this war must be assigned to relevant agencies. Primarily, however, the country needs a responsible government, which the Sept. 16 elections will proclaim," he said.
Practically all the political parties also announced that they were cancelling campaign events scheduled for the weekend. Elections are to be held on Sept. 16.
France on Saturday extended its condolences and solidarity to Greece over the wildfires.
"In these painful incidents, I would like to direct to you, in the name of the French people and myself personally, my sincere condolences," French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to Karamanlis.
France on Saturday will send to Greece four fire-fighting "Canadair" planes and 73 fire-fighters; Italy will send two aircraft; Spain will send two aircraft; Germany will dispatch three helicopters and the Netherlands will send two aircraft, according to the fire brigade's spokesman.
Cyprus said it will send 30 fire-fighters to Greece six vehicles, which are waiting at Larnaca Airport to depart with three Greek C-130 cargo planes. Greece requested urgent assistance from the Union on Friday.
The Greek armed forces, meanwhile, joined fire-fighting efforts late Friday night, allocating several aircraft and helicopters as well as ground forces.
A three-day period of national mourning for the victims of the wildfires was also declared by the government.
Football schedule cancelled
Expectedly, sports events scheduled for the weekend were also affected, with the state-run OPAP football betting pools suspending the various lotteries and pools for the weekend, hours after the Greek Superleague postponing the inaugural weekend of play of the Greek first division football league.
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