Fires persist as Greece hopes for EU aid

Firefighters grappled with burgeoning fires in Arcadia yesterday as the government promised to undertake, and fund, the construction of homes that have been destroyed over the past week. Meanwhile the European Union’s Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner has arrived in Greece to inspect the damage wreaked by a week of devastating fires. Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis is due to accompany her on a helicopter tour of the burnt areas this morning. Alogoskoufis and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis are expected to press Hubner to allocate as much funding from Brussels as possible for reconstruction and regeneration in the afflicted areas. «The dramatic situation in Greece is not just about the Greek people, it concerns us all,» Hubner said yesterday. The worst of yesterday’s blazes were in the municipality of Gortynos, where eight villages were evacuated, and in Megalopolis, where flames approached the local power station. Asked by reporters about the Megalopolis blaze,Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias said it was not considered to pose a high risk. A fire on Mount Parnon continued to burn despite repeated attempts to extinguish it from the air. A few blazes in the ravaged prefectures of Evia and Ileia were still smoldering late last night. Water-dropping aircraft concentrated their efforts over Gortynos with 11 planes and four helicopters dousing the area. Meanwhile, state officials continued to assess the damage wreaked by fires in Evia and the Peloponnese. They expect to have an accurate picture of the number of homes destroyed by Sunday. Those who lost their primary residence will have their homes rebuilt, at the State’s expense, Souflias said. Those whose homes were seriously damaged, but not completely razed, will receive a state subsidy covering 50 percent of the cost of reconstruction while the remaining 50 percent will be provided in the form of an interest-free loan, Souflias added. The government will continue its policy of focusing on the aftermath of the disaster, which it believes it has handled well, ahead of the September 16 election. This means that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis will continue to make regular appearances at ministries and public services responsible for handling the disaster relief. «The sense of urgency is ever present,» he said yesterday during a visit to the Environment and Public Works Ministry. Karamanlis will not return to the campaign trail this weekend and scheduled public addresses in Agrinion and Larissa have been cancelled. It is possible that the prime minister will appear at only one or two public rallies in the week prior to the election. In the meantime, he is likely to make more visits to the fire-ravaged Peloponnese and Evia. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said yesterday that Greece will push for greater cooperation on natural disasters between European Union countries. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was due in Italy last night for talks on the subject with her counterpart Massimo D’Alema. Meanwhile, PASOK leader George Papandreou resumed his campaigning yesterday and criticized the government’s handling of the crisis. «We have to tell our children the truth,» Papandreou told supporters in the northeastern Athens suburb of Aghia Paraskevi. «Our country has suffered the biggest catastrophe since the war and there are no excuses.» However, Papandreou also touched on other issues, such as family welfare benefits, the health service and education as he bids to promote PASOK’s policies ahead of the general election.