Saturday

1st Oct 2022

Greek PM apologises as wildfires ravage island

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologised on Monday (9 August) for failures in tackling the devastating wildfires that have burned across Greece for a week, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

The worst cases were in Evia, Greece's second-biggest island, which is located just off the mainland east of Athens, but more than 500 fires have been burning across Greece.

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Water-bombing aircraft struggled to operate in Evia on Monday because of the smoke blanketing the area, Reuters reported.

More than 2,600 residents and tourists have been evacuated by ferry since last Tuesday.

And over 600 firefighters are still battling to control the blaze there, aided by emergency teams from Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia, five helicopters and five water-dropping planes.

Public anger has been mounting at delays and breakdowns in the government's response, including an apparent lack of water-dropping aircraft.

Mitsotakis went on television late on Monday to make a public apology and promised that mistakes would be corrected.

"I fully understand the pain of our fellow citizens who saw their homes or property burned," he said. The centre-right politician also pledged compensation for those whose properties were destroyed.

"We may have done what was humanly possible, but in many cases, it was not enough," Mitsotakis said.

Greek ministers were due to meet on Tuesday to discuss measures to support those who have lost their homes and livelihoods.

Mitsotakis approved a €500m package of aid for Evia and the Attica region around Athens.

Greek finance minister Christos Staikouras announced on public broadcaster ERT TV that aid of up to €6,000 per household would be given to residents whose homes were damaged, as well as €4,500 for the injured, Euronews reported.

He also announced that the civil protection budget would be boosted by €1.76bn and €224m would be allocated to reforestation.

"These last few days have been among the hardest for our country in decades," Mitsotakis said.

The fires broke out last week during Greece's worst heatwave in three decades.

"The climate crisis is knocking on the door of the entire planet," Mitsotakis said in his address and called for unity.

'Code red'

A UN report on Monday said global warming was dangerously close to being out of control.

Heatwaves are becoming more likely and more extreme because of climate change caused by human activity. The dry weather is likely to fuel further wildfires.

The report warned that the world is certain to face further climate disruptions for decades, if not centuries, to come, Reuters reported.

Scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also said that humans were "unequivocally" to blame for the climate change.

Rapid action to cut greenhouse gas emissions could limit some impacts, they added.

UN secretary-general António Guterres described the report as a "code red for humanity".

Meanwhile, EU countries ramped up efforts to help Greece.

Around 1,000 firefighters, nine planes, and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help with the wildfires, the EU has said.

Solidarity

Help was sent from France, Cyprus, Sweden, Spain, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, and Romania to Greece, with Germany, Poland, Austria, and Slovakia making further offers to assist over the weekend.

Greece was also expecting two aircraft from Turkey and an additional plane from Russia.

"We are mobilising one of Europe's biggest ever common firefighting operations as multiple fires affect several countries simultaneously," the EU commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarčič, said in a statement on Sunday.

Wildfires are also burning in Italy and non-EU countries North Macedonia, Albania and Turkey.

Twelve people have died in Greece, Turkey and Italy, with many injured. Huge fires have been raging across Siberia in northern Russia for several weeks.

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