Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Greece declared a nationwide state of emergency on Saturday,
as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis pointed to arson as the cause of an
unprecedented wave of wildfires that have ravaged the country, particularly the
southern region of Peloponnese.
A fireman tries to approach burning
houses in Smerna village, in the Zacharo area of
Peloponese. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)
Fire authorities put the death toll at 47, but a
senior Health Ministry official said a total of 49 bodies had been recovered.
The death toll could rise as many remained trapped in
villages surrounded by flames, media reports said.
In a nationally televised address Saturday evening,
Karamanlis declared a "state of emergency" in the country.
"I am angered, as are all Greeks, by the fact that so
many wildfires occurred in so many different parts, this is not a coincidence,"
Karamanlis stressed. He called on citizens to be vigilant and to offer help in
efforts to contain the blazes.
The prime minister also announced a series of
measures to aid fire-stricken areas and families affected by the disaster.
According to fire service spokesman Nikos Diamandis,
a 65-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson and homicide in a fire that
killed six people in Areopolis in southern Peloponnese. Two young men were
arrested on charges of arson in the northern city of Kavala, he added.
The massive forest fires have swept through the
southern Peloponnese peninsula since Thursday. Diamandis said on Saturday that
70 new fires broke out while dozens were still burning from a day earlier.
Kalyvia mayor Petros Filippou said the fire front was
approaching houses in a suburb of the city, which lies between the capital
Athens and the ancient site of Sounion to the south.
Police closed off the motorway running from Athens to
the main airport for several hours and most of the provincial roadways in the
Peloponnese were blocked off.
About 9,000 firefighters and 500 soldiers with 1,800
fire engines, planes and helicopters were fighting the blazes. And at least 11
countries from the European Union will send rescue crews and aircraft to help
battle the fires.
The flames have been fanned by winds of up to nine on the Beaufort scale, a weather parameter, which has made flights by fire-fighting aircraft difficult. Reduced winds and a slight drop in temperatures were forecast for Sunday.