NEWS

Search continues as wildfires death toll climbs to 80

TAGS: Fires

Rescue crews Wednesday continued to search the seaside areas northeast of Athens that were the worst affected by wildfires to locate any further victims, as the official death toll rose to 80.

Fire department spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said authorities had received dozens of calls for missing people, adding that some of those reported as missing could be among the dead, or might have already returned to their families without authorities having been informed.

There was no official number released as to how many people might be missing. Some people have taken to social media and Greek television stations with appeals for information on their loved ones.

Looting

Meanwhile, police said four people were arrested for suspected looting in the settlement of Neos Voutzas which was ravaged by fire.

The suspects, aged between 22 and 26, were arrested by members of the Greek Police’s motorcycle-riding DIAS squad after breaking into a home evacuated during the deadly inferno.

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 on Tuesday 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.”

Probe

Also on Tuesday, 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 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.

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.

Relief package

The Greek government on Tuesday announced an extraordinary assistance package of 20 million euros from the resources of the Public Investments Program and a number of support measures for the citizens and enterprises stricken by Attica’s deadly fires. Banks have also announced some measures for affected borrowers.

The first relief measures by the state will ease the tax obligations of residents in the affected areas, exempt them from property tax payments and freeze their loan repayments to banks, while a special account for material damage will be created, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said.

He added that the main bundle of measures to support the stricken families, as well as any extraordinary handouts and compensation, will be announced shortly after the situation has been fully assessed.

[AP, Kathimerini]

 

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