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Toll in Greece climbs as fires spread and multiply

At least 49 are dead and hundreds displaced. Fire crews are stretched thin.

August 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

ZAHARO, GREECE — Fires pushed by gale-force winds tore through more parched forests, engulfed villages and scorched the edges of Athens on Saturday, sending ashes raining onto the Acropolis. The death toll rose to at least 49, with 10 or more missing, as the government declared a nationwide state of emergency.

Soldiers and military helicopters reinforced firefighting forces that were stretched to the limit by Greece's worst summer of wildfires in decades. In the most ravaged area -- a string of mountain villages in the south -- rescue crews picked through a grim aftermath that spoke of last-minute desperation as the fires closed in.

Dozens of charred bodies were found in fields and homes, along roads and in cars, including the remains of a mother hugging her four children.

Dozens of new fires broke out Saturday, including some believed caused by arson.

The worst infernos were concentrated in the mountains of southern Greece and on the island of Euboea north of Athens.

Another fire broke out in the area of Kalyvia, between the capital and the ancient site of Sounion to the south.

Power and water supplies were disrupted in many areas.

In southern Greece, a front of fire was approaching villages outside ancient Olympia and the town of Pirgos early today. Residents called television stations to issue desperate appeals for help.

By sea and by land, authorities evacuated hundreds of people trapped by the flames.

An additional 500 soldiers were to join firefighters today, the fire department said. At least 12 countries also pledged reinforcements, including firefighting aircraft and crews.

The Health Ministry sent tents to the south for 1,500 people left homeless.

Around the town of Zaharo, south of Olympia in the western Peloponnese, thick smoke could be seen for more than 60 miles.

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