by Aggelos Skordas
Less than 24 hours after wildfires burned acres of pine trees forest and hundreds of properties in Eastern Attica, near Greece’s capital, the number of confirmed victims has risen to 50, according to government’s spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos latest briefing, with fears of more casualties being expressed.
Specifically, as Rafina Mayor Vangelis Bournous told local media, 11 more bodies have been recovered from the ashes, while the Hellenic Coast Guard announced its personnel recovered yet another body from the sea. Moreover, Skai TV reports three more bodies were found in a house. So far, the unconfirmed death toll stands at 65. Another 156 people have been injured, with 11 of them hospitalised in critical condition. Among the injured are 23 children.
Bournous expressed fears the number of casualties could rise significantly and exceed 100, as rescue crews are now searching burned buildings and cars. In addition, the Mayor of Rafina estimated that the properties in the area that have been severely damaged are no less than 1,500.
The Fire Brigade is receiving dozens of calls from civilians in search of their loved ones who have been missing since Monday afternoon, when the flames intensified by the strong winds and moved from the mountain of Penteli east towards Rafina and the settlements of Mati, Kallitechnoupolis, Zoumperi, New Voutzas and Agios Andreas. Authorities urged people with missing relatives or friends to call the 199 hotline to provide rescuers with their names and descriptions. At the same time, the National Blood Center is calling for blood donations: “In difficult times like these, we should all contribute as we can,” an announcement issued on Tuesday reads, stressing that supplies are in shortage.
As of Tuesday afternoon, fires are still raging in the Geraneia Mountains near Kineta, west of Athens and Kallitechnopoli in East Attica, near Rafina. Firefighters continue to battle flames in at least five more fronts all over Greece, including Corinth and Crete.
In a public address, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared three-day national mourning and promised that “no one will be forgotten” as answers on the causes of the unspeakable tragedy will be given, while he also thanked foreign leaders for expressing their peoples’ support.
Earlier on Tuesday, 26 people were found dead 30 meters away from a beach at Kokkino Limanaki in Rafina. The victims’ bodies were found all piled up together on a property, as they tried to run towards the beach and escape the flames. Eyewitnesses, among whom the President of the Hellenic Red Cross Nikos Economopoulos, indicated that the victims were discovered bracing each other.
Following Greece’s plea for aid, Cyprus, Turkey, FYROM, Israel and Spain have already offered help, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a phone conversation with Tsipras expressed the Commission’s solidarity with Greece and stressed its intention to allocate the necessary resources to address the emergency situation caused by the fires.
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos stressed that the 44thanniversary for the restoration of democracy (July 24, 1974) has been overshadowed by the tragedy. “Today is a day of remembrance. It is the 44thanniversary of the restoration of democracy, but it is all overshadowed by the tragedy of the dead from the fire”, he said during his visit to the buildings of the former Greek Military Police, currently available to the Association of Prisoners and Exiled Resistance Officers 1967-1974. All scheduled commemorating events marking the anniversary scheduled have been canceled.
National Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and his Alternate Fotis Kouvelis flew over the stricken area escorted by the Chief of the Hellenic Air Force Air Marshal Christos Christodoulou. “What we saw was complete devastation,” Kouvelis told the state-run Athens Macedonian News Agency. Earlier, Kammenos indicated that the Armed Forces have been participating in the operations since the beginning of the tragedy.
“Our country is experiencing an unspeakable national tragedy. The pain is great. The images of families that died in each other’s arms are shocking”, main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday. “I want to express my sincere condolences to the relatives of the victims. At this time, we all have to stand beside them and support them in every way. I also want to express my gratitude to the men and women of the fire brigade, but also the volunteers who, discounting any personal danger, saved lives”, he added among others.
Athens International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos”, national roads and the Rafina port are operating normally.