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27 Aug, 2007 04:31

Death toll reaches 60 in Greek fires

Russia and the U.S have offered additional help to Greece as the death toll from the forest fires ravaging the country reaches at least 60. The Russian government is considering making more special firefighting aircraft available for hire to Greece.

The Greek fire service is currently investigating video broadcast by local media, showing suspected arsonists setting a fire. Seven people have already been detained on suspicion of causing fires, and a reward of one million euros was announced for information shedding light on the situation.

“An indescribable national tragedy” – the Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis can’t find other words to describe the deadliest forest fires for decades that his country witnessed.

“All regions in the country are declared in a state of emergency in order to mobilize all means and forces to face this disaster,” Costas Karamanlis stressed.

Mr Karamanlis suggested the fires may have been started deliberately.

Police have already charged a 65-year-old man with arson and murder relating to a fire, which killed six people in Areopolis.

60 people are now dead and the death toll is likely to rise.

New blazes continue to erupt across the country, even reaching Athens.

Russian firefighters there to relieve the burden from Greek authorities say the situation is critical. Besides, gale-force winds have hampered water bombing missions.

Many villagers remain trapped on the Peloponnesus, cut off by walls of flames.

With emergency services overstretched, desperate residents called television and radio stations to appeal for help.

“Chaos, there is nothing, no firefighters. I tried to call the fire department and I got the fire department in Kalamata, and they knew nothing about our situation. Then I called our local fire department and no one answered. I called the police and they don't even know where we are. It is mayhem, mayhem!” said Mikos Mouzalas, a local resident.

There has been widespread public anger at the government's response, which many have criticised as inadequate and slow.

While people are praying that the temperature cools down, there's no denying that politics are heating up.

The Prime Minister had called for an early election next month, but the government's handling of the fires could cost his government many votes.

In addition, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale has struck the Greek island of Kefalonia.

Meanwhile, Eastern Europe is also suffering forest fires. In Ukraine's Crimea peninsula they have killed at least two people near the resort city of Alupka.