Mon, 03 Sep 2007 15:14 UTC
A massive cleanup, reconstruction and anti-flood effort was being launched Monday for fire-stricken parts of southern Greece as one fire front continued to burn while others abated, officials said.
After months of successive heat waves, heavy rainstorms flooded parts of northern Greece on Sunday. Rain and cooler weather were expected to move south early this week, helping firefighters extinguish any remaining blazes and prevent the possibility of smoldering fires rekindling. However, officials also fear that heavy rains could hamper relief efforts and lead to flooding.
Fires burned near Polydroso near Mount Parnon, in the southeastern Peloponnese, as strong winds and bone-dry conditions kept fire officials on high alert. Fire Department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said that major fires in three other provinces of the Peloponnese had been put out, while a blaze on the eastern island of Chios was under control.
While rain would relieve exhausted firefighting units, officials also fear that downpours could cause flooding in fire-stricken areas.
The official death toll rose to 65 Sunday when a seriously burned man on the island of Evia died in a hospital.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who faces general elections Sept. 16, toured fire-stricken areas Monday.
"An initial circle has been closed in confronting the consequences of the fires," Karamanlis said in the village of Styra on Evia. "We have a long road ahead of us in order to heal the wounds."
He said the government was committed to providing extensive help for farmers and others hit by what many are calling Greece's worst disaster since World War II. Karamanlis also visited Tripolis in the Peloponnese.
Over a 10-day period, an estimated 4,000 people saw their homes destroyed by the wildfires, which razed dozens of villages, destroyed livestock and charred an estimated 469,000 acres of mostly forest and farmland. Fires also ravaged the area around the world heritage site of Ancient Olympia.
The government announced that urgent flood-control measures were being implemented in fire-devastated regions, mainly in the Peloponnese and Evia, and that prefabricated houses were being distributed to people whose homes were burned in villages around Zaharo and other areas.
The Finance Ministry said the European Investment Bank would be making a $1.35 million long-term loan to Greece to help reconstruction efforts, with more to come.
The government has come under strong public criticism for its allegedly slow response to the crisis.
Foreign ministers from southeastern European countries met with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Brussels on Monday to discuss further relief measures for Greece.