Greece declares state of emergency

Decision comes as forest fires kill at least 46 people and trap hundreds of others.

    Cars, houses and fields were burnt as fires swept
    the Peloponnese region [AFP]

    Charred bodies were found in "cars, houses and in fields" in the area surrounding the village of Zacharo, in the southwest Peloponnese, firefighters said.

    "It's a Biblical catastrophe, the sight is horrible. I saw people burnt alive in their cars," Christos Kafiras, the prefect of the Ilia fire department, told a television channel on Friday.
     
    Government criticised
     
    Throughout Friday and into the night, more than 170 fires raged across the country, from the western Ionian islands to Ioannina in northwestern Greece and down to the south.
     
    With at least 25 fires starting long after dark, including one in a park in a wealthy neighbourhood of Athens, authorities warned on Saturday that more blazes were expected.
     
    A recent three-day heat wave, in which temperatures have touched 40C, has left forests and shrub land parched, with flames fanned by the strong winds.
     
    But some of the fires are thought to have been started by arsonists.
     
    Lot of suspicion
     
    Nicole Itano, a journalist in Athens, told Al Jazeera: "There is a lot of suspicion that these fires and previous fires from the summer have been set by arsonists.
     
    "The suspicion is that people are setting fires in order to clear land for new developments.
     

    "People here are simply stunned by the sheer number of the fires."
     
    Itano said that gale force winds had made it difficult for firefighters.
     
    She said that "even without those winds I think firefighters would have been hard pressed to deal with them simply because there are so many".
     
    Itano also said that the government had come under criticism for not being prepared despite "knowing this was going to be a long, hot, dry summer".
     
    "The mood in Greece is definitely one of anger and this may affect the ruling party as they go into elections," she said.
     
    Greece is expecting to see early elections in September.
     
    Highway closed
     
    In Athens, the capital, a fire broke out during the night in a park in the Filothei area, a few kilometres north of the city centre.
     
    Two forest fires, that broke out near the Greek capital, blocked off the main highway between Athens and its international airport, authorities said on Saturday.
     

    High winds have hampered efforts
    to control the blazes [AFP]

    "The motorway has been shut down," a fire department spokesman said.
     
    Karolos Papoulias, the Greek president, said: "We are in a state of national mourning ... We must do whatever is necessary so this does not happen again."
     
    Costas Karamanlis, the country's prime minister, held a crisis meeting in Sparta, in the southern Peloponnese.
     
    After touring the fire-ravaged area the day before, the prime minister called the situation "a national tragedy."
     
    The government has appealed to European Union countries to "send any help they can," said Spyros Flogaitis, the acting interior minister, after an emergency meeting of Greece's civil protection authority.
     
    The Greek military has been called in to help firefighters.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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