A team of firefighters and rescuers from Cyprus is getting ready to leave for Greece to help the Greek authorities deal with the deadly forest fires raging in the country, which so far have killed at least 49 people and injured more than 150.
Cyprus will send a team of 60 firefighters and 4 rescuers and nurses aboard a Hellenic Air Force C130.
The aircraft arrived early this morning at the old Larnaca airport and preparations are earnestly underway to enable the team to depart as soon as possible.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou said Cyprus was ready to send additional assistance if needed, he tweeted, saying this would include two more fire trucks and a number of firefighters.
Spain is also assisting under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, EU Crisis Commissioner Christos Stylianidis announced.
“Thank you very much in Cyprus and Spain for the immediate mobilisation of teams of firefighters, rescuers, firefighting vehicles and aeroplanes to help Greece fight the devastating #fires in Attica, European solidarity in action,” Stylianides tweeted.
Meanwhile, President Nicos Anastasiades had a telephone conversation Monday with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos during which he expressed his full sympathy towards Greece and the Greek people.
A press release issued by the Presidency in Greece, said Anastasiades told the Greek President that the competent authorities of Cyprus have provided the respective services of Greece with fire-fighting equipment and human resources to deal with the situation.
The flight programme at Larnaca airport was affected Monday. Three departures and three arrivals to and from the airport of Larnaka to the airport of Athens were delayed by 2-3 hours. The flight programme has now been restored.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus has announced the emergency telephone numbers of the Embassy of Cyprus in Athens
0030-6953009291 and 0030-6995621288.
The devastating forest fire broke out east of Athens on Monday, a senior fire brigade official said.
A Reuters witness earlier said he had seen bodies in the area, and had heard reports of several more casualties – metres away from a beach where hundreds had fled to save themselves.
The wildfire injured more than 150 as it swept through a small resort town near Athens, with huge flames trapping families with children as they fled.
The fire which hit Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, late Monday afternoon was by far the country’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens.
People scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. Hundreds were rescued by passing boats but others found their way blocked by smoke and flames.
“I was briefed by a rescuer that he saw the shocking picture of 26 people tightly huddled in a field some 30 metres from the beach,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece‘s Red Cross, told Skai TV.
“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time,” he said. A Reuters witness also saw several bodies in the area.
Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at camps.
The 26 deaths came on top of more than 20 casualties reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday. He said more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.
One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation.
A Reuters witness earlier saw at least four dead on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a nearby beach.
The coastguard later said the bodies of four more people were retrieved from the sea. In total, coastguard and other vessels rescued 696 people who had fled to beaches. Boats plucked another 19 people from the sea.
Some parts of Mati were still smouldering with white smoke early on Tuesday. Burned-out cars were scattered outside gated compounds where three- and four-storey buildings bore signs of fire damage.
“We are dealing with something completely asymmetric,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, looking pale, said after cutting short a visit to Bosnia.
Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires that raged out of control in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links.
Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.
The inferno dominated front pages in the country on Tuesday, with headlines such as “killer fire” and “hell” and newspapers reporting fears the death toll would climb.
Authorities said they would be making use of an unmanned drone from the United States on Tuesday to monitor and track any suspicious activity.
Tsipras and Greek officials have expressed misgivings at the fact that several major fires broke out at the same time.
Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create current tinder-box conditions. It was not immediately clear what ignited the fires.
A hillside of homes was gutted by flames east of Athens. A mayor said he saw at least 100 homes and 200 vehicles burning.
Earlier on Monday, Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region west of Athens to abandon their homes as another wildfire burned ferociously, closing one of Greece‘s busiest motorways, halting train links and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.
The main Athens-Corinth motorway, one of two road routes to the Peloponnese peninsula, was closed and train services were cancelled.
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