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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Wildfire Kills 49 in Greece:Updated-Olympia Threatened

[Update] Times Online reports that the death toll has risen to 58 and is not threatening the birthplace of the Olympic games.

Flames lapped at ancient Olympia, threatening the site of the original Games and a world-class museum. The luxury Amalia Hotel was evacuated in the afternoon. One by one, surrounding villages in Ilia province were engulfed by miles-long waves of flame fanned by relentless winds, sending the inhabitants fleeing. Domestic animals and possessions were abandoned to their fate. The death toll was expected to rise as many elderly people refused to be moved.

The rush to defend Olympia – involving six aircraft, two helicopters, 15 fire engines and 45 firemen – triggered complaints by one woman in nearby Nea Phigaleia. In a call to an Athens television station she shouted: “They’re protecting those old stones while leaving us to burn!” Efforts to protect the museum, which houses classical sculptures such as Hermes by Praxiteles and other finds from pagan temples and sports facilities, appeared to have been successful last night.

Greek television stations were inundated by hundreds of desperate calls, some bordering on hysteria, describing walls of flame descending on mountain communities in the Peloponnese with terrifying speed. The three days of conflagrations completely overwhelmed firefighting forces that were concentrating on two main fronts many miles apart.

[End Update]

The Greek Government declares a nationwide state of emergency as wildfires claim the lives of 49 people in a horrible tragedy. Soldiers and military helicopters are battling over 170 blazes along with the firefighters.

The region worst hit is the Peloponnese Peninsula, where fires destroyed whole villages and trapped people in remote areas. The deadliest blaze burned in the western village of Zakharo, where more than 30 people were killed.

In Athens, thick smoke darkened the sky above the capital city Saturday, with ashes raining onto the Acropolis. But the blaze was later brought under control.

Greece has experienced an unprecedented outbreak of wild fires this year, brought on by a combination of soaring temperatures, hot winds and months of drought.

But authorities suspect that arsonists have started some of the fires.

The Telegraph tells us that 40 others are injured and the southern Peloponnese region is being described as a crematorium and that the death toll is expected to rise.

Witnesses describe the chaos:

Georgie Stewart, a British holidaymaker in the region, described how she was forced to flee her house.

She said: "We suddenly saw the smoke coming over a hill about two miles from our house. Then we left when the fire was about 500 yards away. We saw people desperately trying to get up into the hills to reach elderly relatives, people on motorbikes carrying grannies - it really was a scene of panic and chaos."

The Guardian brings us chilling visual of the scenes on some parts of Greece:

The charred remains of a mother holding her child in her arms; people burned alive in cars as they tried to flee; panic-stricken villagers trapped in flame-encircled homes; and thousands evacuated to beaches - these were among the scenes being witnessed in Greece as some of the worst wildfires in living memory ravaged the country.

Keep these people and their families as well as the rescue workers, the military and the firefighters in your thoughts as they battle the worst fires in their lifetime.

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