Page 2 of 2   <      

Wind-Whipped Fires in Greece Kill 49

Panagiotis Efstathiou, a senior Health Ministry official, said 49 bodies were taken to hospitals. The fire department confirmed only 47 deaths. Still, there were fears the death toll could increase as rescue crews searched recently burned areas.

"We still have missing (people) who haven't been found. We have about 10 missing," Zaharo Mayor Pantazis Chronopoulos said, adding that soldiers had begun checking burned houses for more victims.


Flames are approaching a house in Evia island on Friday Aug. 24, 2007. An unprecedented wave of massive fires fanned by gale-force winds raged out of control across Greece Friday, sweeping into towns and villages and killing at least 16 people in the country's deadliest forest fire toll in decades. (AP Photo/Dimitris Doudoumis/ICON press)
Flames are approaching a house in Evia island on Friday Aug. 24, 2007. An unprecedented wave of massive fires fanned by gale-force winds raged out of control across Greece Friday, sweeping into towns and villages and killing at least 16 people in the country's deadliest forest fire toll in decades. (AP Photo/Dimitris Doudoumis/ICON press) (Dimitris Doudoumis - AP)

"I feel deep grief for our dead," Karamanlis said in his address. "I feel deep pain for the mother who perished in the flames with her arms round her children. I feel anger _ the same that you feel."

Desperate residents called television and radio stations to appeal for help, saying they were surrounded by flames. The fire department said 26 villages had been evacuated.

To the north of Athens on the island of Evia, a massive fire raged out of control, burning across hillsides and through villages. Winds blowing with gale-force gusts blew thick smoke southwards into Athens, turning the sky over the capital red and raining ashes down into the center of the city. Police and coast guards used coast guard patrol boats to evacuate 300 people from the island's town of Aliveri and 40 from the nearby town of Styra.

About 300 tourists, mainly from France, were evacuated from local hotels, said Greek-French architect Xavier Pathoulas.

"If the wind doesn't turn tonight, we will burn," he said.

Holiday-makers in Styra said about 500 people were preparing to spend a second night on a beach, with flames surrounding the nearby hills and burning through several villages.

Diamandis said 70 new fires had broken out during Saturday, while dozens still burned from the day before. Volunteers with garden hoses and buckets joined firefighters in the battle to save lives and homes.

Hot, dry seasonal winds drove the flames across a landscape parched by successive heat waves. Reduced winds and a slight dip in temperatures were forecast for Sunday.

The fires were so severe that authorities said they could not yet provide an estimate of how much damage they had caused, nor what expanse of land had been burned.

Authorities evacuated nuns from a convent and closed off a major highway on Mount Ymittos near Athens as flames approached the capital's eastern outskirts, damaging buildings in the Papagou suburb, the fire department said. Firefighters assisted by water-dropping aircraft and hundreds of volunteers brought the blaze under partial control.

____

Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed to this report.


<       2

© 2007 The Associated Press