Published 20:26 July 24, 2018
Updated 05:33 July 25, 2018
At least 60 people have been killed and more than 150 injured after deadly brush fires broke out near the Greek capital Athens on Monday.
The fires, which are still active and out of control due to the strong summer winds that are common in the eastern Mediterranean, have caused thousands of people to evacuate the areas to the north and east of Athens. At least 1,000 homes and more than 300 vehicles have also been destroyed. Dozens of people remain unaccounted for and the Greek Civil Protection Service fear that the number of fatalities may increase. 11 of the injured people are in a very critical condition.
The Greek Fire Service said the constant wind changes made it impossible for residents to escape.
“A firefighter told me that he saw the image of 26 bodies together on a beach in Mati (a northeastern suburb of Athens). They tried to escape, but unfortunately, they did not succeed, “said Nikos Economopoulos, head of the Greek Red Cross, who added that many of the victims appear as though they came to the conclusion that they could not be rescued and embraced one another until to their death.
“We are doing everything humanly possible to deal with the fires. The biggest problem we have is that the fires are simultaneous,” said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said after he was forced to return early from an official trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to declare a state of emergency. “It is a difficult night for Greece,” Tsipras, declaring a three-day period of mourning.
However, according to a live video aired from the emergency meeting with government and civil protection officials, the scenario of multiple, simultaneous fires as a reason for the failure of the national mechanism to save civilians that were in danger, did not prove to be reality, even though many officials keep circulating this rumor, suggesting along with Tsipras himself, that the fires were an “asymmetric attack”, who did not exclude the possibility of a destabilising operation. “I am concerned about the three parallel fronts, parallel foci, my mind is there,” Tsipras added.
EU Member States pledge aid
The Greek authorities have deployed six fire brigade helicopters and three aeroplaness, as well as hundreds of firefighters, to battle the blaze. The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre – the emergency response hub of the European Commission – is coordinating European-wide assistance through the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism to ensure that all 28 members are kept informed of the situation on the ground.
The Greek government has requested and received promises of assistance from Cyprus, Spain, and Bulgaria, all of whom have already made immediate offers through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
Planes from Spain, firefighters, medics, and vehicles were also promised from neighbouring EU countries and the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides has headed to Athens to help the Greek authorities organise the relief effort.
New Europe Journalist Kostis Geropoulos talks about the fires in Greece in BBC World News.