European Countries Help Fire-Ravaged Greece

European Countries Help Fire-Ravaged Greece

26 August 2007

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With Greece facing a nationwide state of emergency after the deadly fires that have killed 51 people by now, France, Germany and Norway are sending helicopters and planes to help extinguish the devastating spread of the flames.

Greece entered a nationwide state of emergency after the unprecedented hellish fires that have burst all over the country’s territory, with recent estimates indicating that 51 people have died due to smoke intoxication or burns.

Many houses and hotels are now empty and are slowly becoming a prey of the ubiquitous flames, which are now dangerously close to the eastern suburbs of Athens. The flames are already scorching the Swathes of the Peloponnese peninsula, as well as the island of Evia. The wildfires are the worst in the recent history of Greece, and have a multitude of causes, including arson suspects, drought, powerful winds and unusually high temperatures for this period.

“We are dealing with a national catastrophe, without precedent,” said Niakalaos Diamantis, a fire service spokesman.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis implied that the scorching flames might have been provoked by arsonists, with the police reporting the arrest of several individuals suspected of having set fire intentionally.

Overwhelmed by the violence, intensity and the possible spreading of the fires, Greece requested the activation of EU’s Community Mechanism for Civil Protection, which ensures the coordination of assistance intervention in order to provide prompt support and to assist a country (inside and outside the European Union) in need of help.

The European Commission has also expresses its shock and sadness at the number of victims in the fires that are devastating the southern regions of Greece.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Stavros Dimas, Member of the European Commission responsible for the Environment and Civil Protection, associated themselves for, in name of the Commission, expressing their profound sadness and convey their condolences to the families concerned.

“I am saddened by the tragic loss of human lives that these forest fires have brought with them and hope that the European partners will live up to expectations and provide all the material support Greece needs in this moment of distress.”

“I wish to express my sorrow at the number of victims and send my condolences to the Greek authorities and to the families concerned. I want to thank, personally, the Member States and other European countries that have contributed fire-fighting aircraft to help extinguish the devastating fires and sincerely hope that the situation will soon be controlled and no other lives lost,” said Commission President
José Manuel Barroso.

“I am distressed that Europe’s Southern shores are once again experiencing climatic conditions that favour the spread of these fires. I am convinced that we need to strengthen our forest fire-fighting capacity to combat these fires together.”

“It is a tragedy that so many lives were lost. It is also an ecological disaster of an unprecedented dimension with tens of thousands of hectares of habitats destroyed. And it will mean tremendous economic hardship for those who have lost their businesses and houses to the fires,” Commissioner Dimas also said.

He added: “My heart goes out to all those who are suffering from the consequences of this disaster. As soon as the fires are extinguished, efforts to restore the habitats and rebuild the areas destroyed must be undertaken immediately.”

Five Canadairs – four French and one Italian – arrived yesterday afternoon to help fight the fires that have been devastating the southern regions of Greece, in particular the Peloponnese, the Peloponnese, but also in the Katyvia region, near the capital Athens. France has also dispatched fire-fighting brigades, despite the fact that it has its own southern-region fires to fight with.

Another three Canadairs were on their way on Sunday supplied by Spain (two) and Portugal. All countries concerned have had to fight their own fires but none has been as badly hit as Greece this summer.

Germany, the Netherlands and Slovenia have also offered helicopters (three 5000litre helicopters for Germany, two Cougars for Netherlands and one 1000l helicopter for Slovenia), all due to arrive in Greece by Monday.

Other countries have or are still offering fire-fighting material, which is being considered by the Greek authorities. They include Austria and Sweden.

Since its creation, the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection has been activated for a number of disasters worldwide, including the 2003 earthquake in Iran; the 2004 tsunami affected South East Asia; the 2005 forest fires in Portugal, flooding in Bulgaria and Romania, Hurricane Katrina in the US and the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, the Lebanon crisis in 2006. This year the Mechanism was activated for floods in Bolivia, forest fires in Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania.

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