by Aggelos Skordas
As firefighters continue to battle flames in different parts of the region of Attica throughout the night, Greek government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told a press conference that the death toll has risen to at least 20. Among the victims are infants and children. At the same time, two people are declared missing, more than 68 have been hospitalised -with five (or 11 according to different sources) of them being in critical condition- while hundreds have been left homeless. Local media, quoting Fire Brigade sources, indicate that the victims exceed 30.
The two major wildfires fueled by gale-force winds in Kineta, west of Athens, and Rafina, east of the Greek capital, continue to burn acres of pine tree forests, dozens of properties, vehicles and infrastructure uncontrollably. A third front is burning near Kalamos, Eastern Attica.
More than 30 people have been rescued from ferry boats, linking the port of Rafina with the Cycladic islands, as they jumped into the sea to save their lives in the seaside town of Rafina and the surrounding areas, while numerous private vessels, Hellenic Coast Guard boats, two Hellenic Navy ships, Super Puma utility helicopters and special forces seals participate in the rescue operations and evacuate residents and tourists from nearby settlements and hotels.
Firefighting aircrafts of the Hellenic Air Force and helicopters of the Greek Army will operate again with the first daylight in an attempt to set the fires under control. According the Greek Fire Brigade, 280 firefighters with 120 vehicles continue to operate, while government sources increase the number of the firefighters participating in the operations to 600 with 300 vehicles.
Tzanakopoulos indicated that apart from the assistance of the European Union member states, Greece has also requested aid from the US, which will participate in the operations with an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Cyprus has already confirmed it will send firefighters and equipment to Greece.
Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras along with Minister of Interior Panos Skourletis, Alternate Minister of Public Order and Citizen Protection Nikos Toskas, Alternate Minister of Health Pavlos Polakis, Alternate Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Christos Spirtzis, Alternate Minister of Environment and Energy Sokratis Famelos and Attica Regional Governor Rena Dourou remain in the Fire Brigade’s Operational Center.
Earlier on Monday Toskas suggested arsonists caused the fires. The Greek Premier from the Fire Brigade’s Operational Center also referred to an “asymmetric phenomenon” in three fire fronts.
Shocking images emerge from the beach of Argyri Akti, near Rafina, where dozens of citizens entered the sea to protect themselves from the approaching flames that continue to burn Eastern Attica since Monday afternoon.
The smoke which covered the sky above Athens was visible from areas as far as the island of Andros some 40 nautical miles away from Rafina.
Due to the state of emergency, the annual commemorating event for the restoration of democracy scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in the Presidential Mansion has been canceled, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos’ office stated.
Despite earlier reports, Athens International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos” continues to operate normally and will remain open, the Greek Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Networks announced.