Fires in Greece-Saturday Morning Update

August 29, 2007

by Apostolis Fotiadis

Some minutes after midnight yesterday the nation was shocked by images broadcasted on TV channel Alpha, picturing charred bodies’ lying dead next to their cars. They had been burned to death in their effort to drive away from the rampaging fire blazing all the way through yesterday and last night, when a car crushed into a fire engine and immobilized them in the middle of the fire.

Despite incredible efforts from people in the field the overstretched state mechanism has been failing desperately throughout the night to offer protection to civilians. The public has been following in awe while TV channels have been broadcasting live appeals for help from people in remote mountainous areas.

The sunrise of Saturday Aug. 25th materialized the worst fears about the size of the catastrophe in central and southwestern Peloponnesus. The provinces of Messinia, Lakonia and predominantly Ilia, covering the area of 9.245 square km. had been declared in a state of emergency in the early evening yesterday Friday Aug. 24th, but in vain.

Anger for the absence of the state was widespread among them. “We were left alone, the fire brigade, the state is nowhere, they disserted us” Platanias George from Kaifas, south of Zaharo was saying early in the morning.

Forty two deaths have already been confirmed but talk about many other is spreading.

On Saturday thirty six bodies were brought to the hospital of Pirgos, the capital of Ilia prefecture, 305 km south-western of Athens.The majority of deaths occurred in villages situated around the city of Zaharo, located in the south-western part of Ilia, which as it seems has been in the center of the catastrophe.

Six more dead, four of them tourists, were confirmed in the seaside town of Aeropolis in the Mani region, in the Lakonia prefecture, of Greece‘s deep south..

Early Saturday morning the fire brigade announced that all available airborne unit’s, nineteen planes and eighteen helicopters, in southern and central Greece have been operating over the areas. During the night army units and police forces had also been called in to assist in the evacuation of inhabitants and firefighting. But uniformed services do not seem trained or equipped for the task. “We are on alert since last night, but we are equipped only with towels and water flasks’, said George Bougiakas, a conscript in the Greek army.

The arrival of daylight allowed Canadair airplanes and Sinook helicopters, the airborne firefighting equipment, to take off and assist the pedestrian firefighting force to reach villages and areas that had been isolated during the night. But the strong winds blowing make their efforts extremely difficult.

“Pilots are operating whenever the weather conditions permit… They are making incredible efforts,” fire department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said.

It has been impossible for authorities or media sources to estimate the number of evacuated villages and the size of environmental destruction until now. In many areas the national circulation roads remain cut. Everyone is now focusing on assisting civilians to escape from dangerous areas.

More than 170 fires have been raging all along the country during the two days with new points appearing constantly, ‘the front of the fire is astonishing, there is nothing we can do but just escape’ said Antonis Katsubas vice-mayor of Megalopolis, a town in the western part of the prefecture of Arcadia, bordering the prefecture of Ilia.

These two days is the peak of a terrible summer of forest fires that has now been raging for two months, burning innumerable hectares and claiming many lives. Just last Wednesday three firefighters lost their lives in the island of Creta when they were trapped by flames changing direction because of strong winds.

The Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis flew in Peloponnesus last night in an effort to coordinate better the effort of emergency forces, “what we are living today is an unspeakable tragedy” he said. Early on Saturday the President of Democracy Karolos Papoulias and leaders of all parliamentary political parties visited the area.

PM Karamanlis is under substantial political pressure as he faces early elections in three week. Despite that the governmental party has called off its pre-election campaign until further notice. The opening weekend of the football championship was also called off. The country appealed to EU countries for assistance. France offered two planes.

The Ministry of Educations made available all schools and two university dormitories in Ilia, for people in need of shelter and first aid.

Many of the fires are alleged to be an orchestrated plot of arsonists, mostly because of the unnatural speed with which fires are spreading and the density of their starting points. Earlier on today the government initiated investigations from the anti-terrorist squad and the secret services. One suspect was detained in Zaharo.

Still at the moment nobody focuses on the causes. Damage on infrastructure and environmental devastation is immense and most of the people try to conceive the scale of destruction. Nikos Kostadakatos from Kaifas in Ilia said, “Anything that shaped me as a personality, the place I grew up and live, any element of the social and productive network, everything is destroyed.”

One comment

  1. I am a Nigerian journalist based in the United States. I would like to contact Mr. Apostolis Fotiadis to follow up on a story he wrote about Nigerian girls on the streets of Greece.

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