Source AP ©

Greece starts flood-prevention measures

Only one last front continues burning but others abated in Greece. The country launched a massive cleanup, reconstruction and anti-flood effort.

Fires burned near Polydroso, near Mt Parnon, in the southeastern Peloponnese, as strong winds and bone-dry conditions kept fire officials on high alert. Fire Department spokesman Nikos Diamandis said that major fires in three other provinces of the Peloponnese had been put out, while a blaze on the eastern island of Chios was under control.

Officials were hopeful that wetter, cooler weather would soon help firefighters extinguish any remaining blazes.

The official death toll rose to 65 Sunday when a seriously burned man on the island of Evia died in a hospital.

Conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who faces general elections on Sept. 16, toured fire-stricken areas on Monday.

"We have a long road ahead of us in order to heal the wounds," Karamanlis said in the village of Styra on Evia. He said the government was committed to providing extensive help for farmers and others hit by what many are calling Greece's worst disaster since World War II. Karamanlis also visited Tripolis in the Peloponnese.

After months of scorching temperatures and little rain, heavy storms flooded parts of northern Greece on Sunday. Rain and lower temperatures were expected to move south this week, aiding efforts to extinguish any remaining blazes and prevent smoldering fires from rekindling.

Meanwhile the government announced that urgent flood-control measures were being implemented in fire-devastated regions, mainly in the Peloponnese and Evia, and that prefabricated houses were being distributed by truck to people whose houses were burned in villages around Zaharo and other badly hit areas.

The Finance Ministry announced that the European Investment Bank would be making a EUR100 million (US$135 million) long-term loan to Greece to help reconstruction efforts, with more to come.

The government also set Friday as the deadline for citizens to return money illegally collected through the emergency fire compensation program launched hurriedly last week. Greeks who had sustained damage from the fires could draw 3,000 euros to cover immediate losses, and the government has vowed to prosecute those who drew funds without cause.

While rain would relieve exhausted firefighting units, officials also fear that downpours could cause flooding in fire-stricken areas, hampering relief efforts.

Over a 10-day period, an estimated 4,000 people saw their homes destroyed by the wildfires, which razed dozens of villages, destroyed livestock and charred an estimated 190,000 hectares (469,000 acres) of mostly forest and farmland. Fires also ravaged the area around the world heritage site of Ancient Olympia.

The government has faced strong public criticism for its allegedly slow response to the crisis, while the public has responded with massive donations of clothes, food and money.

Foreign ministers from southeastern European countries met with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Brussels on Monday to discuss further relief measures for Greece.

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