NEWS

Dozens killed in fires amid signs of inadequate state planning

TAGS: Fires

A massive effort was under way on Tuesday to extinguish the most disastrous wildfires Attica has seen in decades, with the official death toll at 74 though rescue workers warned that this number would rise as dozens of people remained unaccounted for and 11 in intensive care. 

Meanwhile, Supreme Court prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou ordered a probe into the causes of the blazes amid indications that the state response to the emergency had been slow and that no evacuation plan for such a situation had been in place. 

The fires, which broke out at seaside resorts on the outskirts of the capital on Monday, continued to burn on Tuesday even as European Union member-states responded to a Greek request to boost its firefighting efforts. 

Some of the fires had been partially contained by Tuesday afternoon, including one that had struck the small town of Mati, east of Athens, where the charred remains of 26 people were found in a field, including relatives embracing. 

Hundreds of firefighters continued efforts to curb a blaze in nearby Rafina and another in Kineta, west of Athens, where Monday’s blaze rekindled on Tuesday. There were also reports of a new smaller blaze in Aghioi Theodoroi. 

Meanwhile, four more fires were burning in other parts of the country, including one near the port of Corinth and another on Crete. 

Coast guard vessels patrolled the sea next to the seaside towns that were hit by the fires after rescuing more than 700 people who had fled to beaches or jumped in the sea to escape the spreading flames. 

Rescue workers set up mobile units in Mati, Rafina and Kineta on Tuesday to distribute food and other supplies to hundreds of people who lost their homes in the fires. 

According to the mayor of Rafina-Pikermi, Evangelos Bournous, more than 1,500 homes were destroyed in the fires. 

As for the damage to forestland, it is estimated to be in excess of 2,100 hectares. The tragedy reignited discussion about the widespread practice of illegal construction on forestland and along the coastline. 

Referring to an “unspeakable tragedy” in a televised address, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared three days of national mourning. 

He indicated that the reasons for the tragedy and possible responsibilities – “the whys and wherefores” – would be investigated “when the time is right.”

Opposition leaders too said that now was not the time to cast blame, with New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying the priorities were “unity and solidarity.”

The response in the wake of the deaths appeared swift and efficient.

Municipal authorities joined forces with nongovernmental organizations and volunteers to gather supplies for hundreds left homeless by the fires and the Hellenic Red Cross opened bank accounts for donations.

Social media were also flooded with appeals for food, clothing and medicine for survivors while relatives of the missing posted requests for information.

Health authorities appealed for donations of blood and blood components to help burn victims in hospitals across Attica and drew a strong response from citizens.

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