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Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-08-27

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

CONTENTS

  • [01] Greece engulfed in inferno, state of emergency declared; PM briefs president
  • [02] Death toll at 61; 89 fires in 24-hour period

  • [01] Greece engulfed in inferno, state of emergency declared; PM briefs president

    Five out of seven prefectures in the Peloponnese, southern Greece, along with central and southern Evia were again ravaged by wildfires on Sunday, although new fires were continually erupting. Tragically, the official death toll rose to 61 -- as of Monday morning -- in the wake of an unprecedented barrage of wildfires that erupted since Thursday, fanned by gale-force winds, heat and amid widespread speculation of arson.

    According to a fire brigade spokesman during a Sunday afternoon briefing, 63 new wildfires alone were reported in just a 24-hour period, of which 40 were quickly extinguished.

    The worst hit areas over the weekend remained in Ilia prefecture, in the western Peloponnese, reaching even the gates of ancient Olympia before being turned back, hours after the emergence of a new spate of sudden and ominous wildfires in central Fthiotida prefecture, causing the Athens-Thessaloniki rail line to be interrupted at one point.

    Karamanlis

    Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Monday was scheduled to meet with President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias.

    A day earlier, he met with top fire brigade brass at the force's headquarters in Athens, where he was briefed on the latest developments concerning the wildfire fronts and the arrival of foreign fire-fighting crews and aircraft. Following a briefing by the defence ministry's civil and military leadership, Karamanlis chaired another meeting in the late evening.

    In the wake of the unprecedented natural catastrophe, a day earlier the premier declared a nationwide state of emergency and promised hefty financial assistance for fire-ravaged victims and regions, speaking during a brief nationally televised address.

    In expressing his personal "grief and rage" over the wildfires, Karamanlis also stressed that: "I am angered, as are all Greeks, by the fact that so many wildfires occurred in so many different parts. This is not a coincidence."

    "The country, since yesterday, is experiencing an unprecedented national tragedy, which cannot be described in words. A tragedy which, with grief, we are all together experiencing. The confrontation of this unprecedented situation requires a tough battle; a battle which, from the first moment, the state is waging with the support of hundreds of thousands of citizens throughout the country.

    "Yet again, I want to express our trust, support, gratitude to the people waging a tough battle, an unequal battle on the wildfire fronts. The battle is continuing ... Our immediate target is for the hundreds of fires to be placed under control, as soon as possible; to intervene where people's lives are in danger; to treat the injured and to support our fellow citizens, who passed and are passing difficult hours. And, of course to proceed, without any delay, to the task of rehabilitating the affected regions.

    "All the country's prefectures are declared in a state of emergency ... For the evil to stop, and to start, as soon as possible, the healing ... The state is on alert. I call on all citizens to actively participate, with all the strength they possess, in this collective battle; a battle that must be won for the good of our country.

    "I feel deep grief for our dead. I feel heart-felt pain for the mother lost in the flames, clutching her children. I feel outrage. I feel the same rage as you ... So many fires, at the same time, in so many parts of the country, cannot be a coincidence. The state, with the help of all, shall do what is necessary so as to find the guilty individuals and punish them."

    Along those lines, police and intelligence officials held a meeting at the public order ministry on Sunday to examine information and data related to the scores of wildfires that erupted in a 48 period in one-third of the country.

    Amateur videos, suspicious objects found at the sites where fires began and eyewitnesses' statements were the focus on the meeting and ongoing investigations. Among others, two juveniles were detained in the northern town of Kavala after residents reportedly spotted them starting fires with a lighter. A fire brigade spokesman later confirmed that seven individuals are being held on suspicion of arson, with some 30 individuals arrested on similar charges since June.

    Polydoras concurs with 'asymmetrical threat' assessment

    Speaking afterwards on whether he agreed that the country is facing an "asymmetrical threat", Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras said "absolutely".

    "We have findings; we have arrests; we have questionings; we have categorical testimonies by witnesses that will constitute evidence for investigation material. We can say that, indeed, we have an asymmetrical threat. The scattering of wildfires, the time, the night attacks with fires breaking out at 3 or 4 in the morning in some unbelievable areas, where access isn't achieved by some casual passersby or motorists, leads us to the conclusion that we are facing an asymmetrical threat," the minister stressed.

    Polydoras added that ancient Olympia was saved through the self-sacrifice of the fire-fighters on the ground, whereas he clarified that the heat intensity of approaching wildfires caused a fire prevention system around the site to collapse.

    "With struggles and the self-sacrifice of firefighters in the courtyard area of Ancient Olympia, we succeeded in saving those sensitive and important places," Polydoras said.

    Wildfire front

    Throughout most of Sunday, the worst blazes were centred in the southwest and western Peloponnese (llia and Messinia prefectures), the hardest hit area so far; in two districts in southern Evia island, Aliveri and Styra, along with new wildfires in Corinth prefecture, in the northwest Peloponnese, and specifically at the Sofiko site. A bevy of particularly nasty wildfires in the Athens area's arid far southeast suburbs -- Keratea and Kalyvia -- were also extinguished by Sunday morning.

    An undetermined number of people are unaccounted for, authorities said, saying fears of an even higher death toll, while dozens of individuals, mostly in the southern Peloponnese, were hospitalised. Thousands of hectares of crops, pasture land and forests were scorched.

    [02] Death toll at 61; 89 fires in 24-hour period

    The official death toll from the four-day-long wildfires across much of southern Greece reached 61 on Monday morning, the fire brigade announced, adding that no less than new 89 wildfires were reported over a 24-hour period ending at 6 a.m.

    At roughly noon local time (10.00 GMT) the most worrying blazes were centred in central and southern Evia, a large island straddling central Greece's eastern coast, and across an arc stretching from the northwest Peloponnese down to the peninsula's southeast, in Laconia prefecture. A spate of other wildfires was raging in central Greece, whereas fires erupted on a handful of islands, including Corfu and Cephallonia, in the Ionian sea, although they were quickly extinguished.

    Besides fire-stricken Ilia prefecture, where ancient Olympia was surrounded by flames a day earlier before fire-fighters beat back a wildfire front at the historic site's fences, other prefectures in the Peloponnese ravaged by fires include Messinia, Arcadia and, and to a less extent, Corinth and Achaia prefectures. The Megalopoli front in Arcadia was reportedly taking precedence on Monday, although fears of fires rekindling have ground forces on alert practically throughout the Peloponnese.

    In terms of Olympia, a <!--Concentrated efforts by ground forces and fire-fighting aircraft -- including French and Russian crews -- to prevent the wildfire from reaching the actual antiquities, museum and the other facilities paid off, with the site reportedly left unscathed. The outlying areas, however, did not fare as well, with smoke seen rising from the remains of nearby forests and groves.

    Caption: A batch of trees burn out of control next to the museum at the archaeological site of ancient Olympia, in the western Peloponnese, on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007. ANA-MPA /ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU

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