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Firefighters bring fires in Greece under control, minor rekindling in 2 areas

Firefighters bring fires in Greece under control, minor rekindling in 2 areas

Promises of aid poured in from Greece and abroad as firefighters managed to douse most of the massive fires that ravaged the Greek countryside for a week and killed 64 people.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said Friday that the fronts have been contained, and authorities would focus on redressing the damage _ estimated at more than euro1.2 billion (US$1.6 billion),
"The fight is not yet over, but things are better," Karamanlis said. "We must now think of the day after."
The European Union said Greece would probably receive euro200 million (US$237 million) in emergency aid and could be eligible for another euro400 million (US$546 million), depending on the amount of damage caused by the fires.
"The European Commission is determined to explore all possible means of support and assure the mobilization of available funds in order to help," Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Hubner said after flying over burned areas.
Government estimates indicate that at least 1,500 homes were gutted in the worst-hit areas _ the southern Peloponnese peninsula and the island of Evia, just north of Athens. But there are concerns that figure could double. At least 4,000 people were left homeless, but that number also could double.
The U.S. Agency for International Development said it was providing $1.3 million (euro950,000) in equipment and technical assistance. The Greek government said China will give $1 million (euro730,000).
Prime Minister Karamanlis, who faces a close race for re-election in less than three weeks, promised to rebuild all homes destroyed by the fires through a new disaster relief fund made up of state and private contributions. He said homeless families would initially be provided with prefabricated homes.
"We will try ... to help these people who have lost a part of their life to regain it," he said. "This is our commitment."
Karamanlis said all burned forests would be designated for reforestation _ through protected natural regrowth or replanting _ while action will be taken to protect afflicted areas from flooding and erosion.
The fire department said the lest two major fires, near the village of Kato Kotyli and on Mount Parnon in the southern Peloponnese peninsula, were receding, although winds had rekindled blazes within these areas' initial burned perimeters.
"While we have high temperatures and strong winds, there is a threat of these fronts being reactivated," said Fire Department spokesman Nikos Diamandis.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was due in Athens late Friday, and will fly over afflicted areas.
"President Barroso will be visiting people on the spot to express the Commission's solidarity and to show that this is a disaster for all Europe and not only for Greece, and that Europe will not abandon the victims of this disaster," Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said.
More than 190,000 hectares (469,000 acres) of forest, olive groves and scrub have been destroyed in the past week _ more than during any single year since record-keeping started in the 1950s.
Entire villages turned out on Thursday to bury their dead. In Minthi, a hamlet of about 30 homes near Zaharo, 50 people attended the funeral of shepherd Giorgos Tripodis, 79, who perished with most of his flock. His body was so badly burnt it had to be identified through DNA testing.
In nearby Artemida, where 24 people died _ including a mother found hugging her four dead children _ Ioanna Alexandropoulou, 70, and her grandchildren Philippos, 5, and Ioanna, 5, were buried as 300 black-clad mourners looked on.
Thousands of people again lined up outside banks for a third day Friday to receive emergency aid, although officials tightened checks on the fast-track aid process to foil fraud.
A court in the western Peloponnese town of Amaliada sentenced three Roma men to three-and-a-half-years in prison for fraudulently claiming relief funds of euro3,000 (US$4,100). A woman was released after appealing her conviction.
At least another 12 people have been arrested for relief fraud, and the Finance Ministry issued a week's amnesty for people who may have "accidentally" received cash relief. "After that, all legal penalties will apply in full for all," a ministry statement said.
Government spokesman Thodoris Roussopoulos said 44,000 people have received immediate aid worth euro143 million (US$196 million) over the past three days.
Also, a special help line set up in Athens has received more than 115,000 calls, mostly from people offering aid, Roussopoulos said.
The fires are dominating political debate before the Sept. 16 elections. Criticism that the government failed to respond quickly enough _ and its suggestions the fires resulted from an organized attack _ could hurt Karamanlis.
A series of polls have indicated that the conservatives had a razor-thin margin over George Papandreou's main opposition Socialist Party.


Updated : 2021-01-28 08:08 GMT+08:00