Greek fury as fires rage, death toll to reach 100

 

AT LEAST 81 people have so far been confirmed dead in the Greece fires and residents say the death toll could have been much lower if the country had an effective plan to deal with natural disasters.

Reports suggest children jumped off cliffs into the sea to avoid the fires, while others burned alive in their cars trying to escape and some drowned as they ran into the sea for safety.

Costas Synolakis, a professor of natural disasters in the Technical University of Crete, told CNBC that Greece's emergency services were ill prepared and acted too slowly.

"It is undoubtedly a national tragedy. There was no evacuation plan. Unfortunately, the Greek Civil Protection Agency is only thinking about the firefighting and not giving enough importance on civil protection and preparation," he said.

Professor Synolakis said within a minute a fire like this one could be extinguished with a glass of water, in two minutes in would take a bucket of water, in three minutes with a tank of water and "after that we do our best".

"There had not been any drill on how to evacuate this area, and no experience for how much time will be needed to safely rescue, for example, 100 people. As a result, even the locals did not know where to go when the fire threatened them. To say it schematically, it's like being on a sinking ship and you do not know where to go to be saved," he said.

People take refuge from Greece fires in Argyris Akti, Nea Makri, Greece. Picture: Kalogerikos Nikos
People take refuge from Greece fires in Argyris Akti, Nea Makri, Greece. Picture: Kalogerikos Nikos

Mati resident Nana Laganou told journalists that the fire was "lightning fast" and believes the government could have done more.

"I would have liked to see some (reaction) from the state, but we didn't and we won't and that makes me angry," she said.

The opposition Te Nea daily criticised the government's "inability to protect its citizens just a few kilometres from Athens".

The front page of the Ethnos newspaper showed a charred Greek flag with the headline: "Armageddon."

The flag on the Acropolis hill flies at half-staff in Athens. Picture: AP
The flag on the Acropolis hill flies at half-staff in Athens. Picture: AP

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia and announced three days of national mourning, calling the fire an "asymmetrical" phenomenon.

Mr Tsipras chaired a meeting of his emergency management committee on Wednesday though no statement was issued.

The death toll now stands at 81, with 186 people seriously injured and about 100 people missing.

With such a high amount of people still missing, authorities are bracing for the death toll to reach triple digits.

EUROPE RALLIES TO HELP GREECE

Greece's European neighbours have sent firefighting aircraft and offered support in the wake of the devastating fires.

European Council President Donald Tusk that help was on its way.

EU Commission spokesman, Alexander Winterstein, told reporters: "During these difficult times, we stand side-by-side with the Greek people and authorities and I commend the tireless and courageous efforts of the emergency responders.

"Everything possible will be done to provide support today, tomorrow and for as long as it takes."

The Commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management is helping to co-ordinate the EU's response in Athens.

EU President Donald Tusk said help is on the way. Picture: AP
EU President Donald Tusk said help is on the way. Picture: AP

Italy has sent two Canadair planes and Romania a third, with both due to arrive overnight, according to Greece's public order minister.

Spain has already sent a further two Canadair-type planes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is offering her country's help to fight the fires.

Ms Merkel said that "in these difficult hours Germany stands firmly by the side of our Greek friends."

"You can be sure of our willingness to provide support in coping with the fire disaster," she said.


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