28 August, 2007
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Monday briefed Greece's president Karolos Papoulias on the heavy toll in lives and damage inflicted up to this time by fires that have swathed roughly half the country since Friday.
Addressing President Papoulias before cameras, Karamanlis stressed that "we are shocked at this great tragedy. We all feel that we are losing our own people. The battle is still on and the task is difficult."
The prime minister emphasised the debt to those waging the battle against the flames and said the government's first priority was to stand by the people who were victims of the fires in every way possible.
The president expressed agreement, noting the need to provide psychological support for the victims as well.
Karamanlis also pledged "brave programmes" for the reconstruction of the fire-stricken regions immediately after the elections.
Earlier, Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis had called a meeting at the economy and finance ministry in order to examine the possibility of additional support measures for victims of fires, attended by Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas,
Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas and the general secretaries of the economy and finance ministries.
A meeting with President Papoulias has also been sought by main opposition PASOK's leader George Papandreou, who called the president on Monday morning and repeated a request for a meeting of the political party leaders chaired by the president.
On Sunday night, Papandreou had paid a visit to Olympia and the archaeological site, which was saved from destruction literally at the last minute, with the flames of the wildfires reaching right up to the perimeter of the site and destroying the lush vegetation that ringed the ancient stadium and museum.
PASOK's leader expressed his support for the firemen that had fought to protect the ancient site, who complained of hostility from the public and said that they had not delayed in requesting assistance from the air in order to protect the site.
He said that fire men were not responsible for the problems that had arisen recently and that it was the job of the state to give them the means to do their job.
The site also received a visit on Sunday from Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras, whose ministry is responsible for the fire brigade, who expressed satisfaction that the ancient site where the Olympic Games were born and held in antiquity had been saved.
The minister reported that both the old and new museums and the academy had escaped damage as a result of the self-sacrifice and bravery of firemen, noting that three or four of them had sustained injuries in their battle against the flames.
The official death toll from the four-day-long wildfires across much of southern Greece reached 61 on Monday morning, the fire brigade announced, adding that no less than new 89 wildfires were reported over a 24-hour period ending at 6 a.m.
At roughly noon local time (10.00 GMT) the most worrying blazes were centred in central and southern Evia, a large island straddling central Greece’s eastern coast, and across an arc stretching from the northwest Peloponnese down to the peninsula’s southeast, in Laconia prefecture. A spate of other wildfires was raging in central Greece, whereas fires erupted on a handful of islands, including Corfu and Cephallonia, in the Ionian sea, although they were quickly extinguished.
Besides fire-stricken Ilia prefecture, where ancient Olympia was surrounded by flames a day earlier before fire-fighters beat back a wildfire front at the historic site’s fences, other prefectures in the Peloponnese ravaged by fires include Messinia, Arcadia and, and to a less extent, Corinth and Achaia prefectures. The Megalopoli front in Arcadia was reportedly taking precedence on Monday, although fears of fires rekindling have ground forces on alert practically throughout the Peloponnese.
In terms of Olympia, a fast-moving wildfire momentarily surrounded the hallowed archaeological site in the northwest Peloponnese on Sunday afternoon before finally being turned backed at the site's perimeter, but not before a pine-covered hilltop above the renowned stadion, the ancient track, was burned.
Concentrated efforts by ground forces and fire-fighting aircraft -- including French and Russian crews -- to prevent the wildfire from reaching the actual antiquities, museum and the other facilities paid off, with the site reportedly left unscathed. The outlying areas, however, did not fare as well, with smoke seen rising from the remains of nearby forests and groves.
Source: Athens News Agency