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Cyprus sends help to Greece.

Byline: Stefanos Evripidou

CYPRUS SENT around 90 more firemen and five firefighting vehicles to Greece yesterday to help put out the raging wildfires in north-eastern Attica, announced Interior Minister Neoclis Sylikiotis yesterday.

Three Greek Air Force C-130 aircraft landed at Andreas Papadopoulos airbase in Paphos yesterday to transport to Greece the 90-man team, consisting of Fire Service and Forestry Department firefighters, along with specialised volunteers from Civil Defence.

The reinforcements will add to the 37 Cypriot firefighters already battling fires in Greece since Sunday in the Nea Makri area, along with two fire brigade vehicles and a Cyprus Republic-leased Kamov helicopter with a five-member crew.

"The Cyprus government is ready to do all in its power, supported by voluntary teams, to help efforts to contain the wildfires and reduce damage in properties and the environment," Sylikiotis said yesterday.

The minister noted that he and Justice Minister Loucas Louca were in constant contact with their Greek counterparts to coordinate the Cyprus mission in Greece and discuss the need for further manpower and equipment.

He said the wildfires in Greece brought home the need for better cooperation within the European Union to increase existing manpower and enhance its infrastructure to assist member states in similar cases of major natural disasters. He also recalled Cyprus' proposal to the EU to set up a Joint Operations Centre for the Mediterranean member states.

President Demetris Christofias yesterday contacted Greek President Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to express his sympathy and solidarity with the people of Greece for the great disaster caused by the raging fires in the country and offer Cyprus' services. Karamanlis later contacted Christofias to express his gratitude and thanks to Cyprus on behalf of the Greek people.

All teams from Cyprus have been posted to various points in the Nea Makri area. Fire Department Spokesman Marios Kyprianou told the Cyprus News Agency that Cypriot firefighters were separated into three teams. The first team, comprising 37 firefighters and 2 small fire engines were fighting fires in the Dionysos-Nea Makri area since Sunday night. Strong winds in the area were making the task very difficult, he said.

Head of the Civil Defence mission to Greece, Chrysilios Chrysiliou said his team along with the forest firefighters managed to save the Saint Ephraim monastery from the fire's rapidly expanding flames. The team was working above the town of Nea Makri, working hard to create firebreaks in the area. Chrysiliou described the "excellent cooperation" of all units working in the area, including Greek and Cypriot firefighters from various departments.

The Mayor of Nea Makri Iordanis Loizos thanked the Cypriots for their contribution to tackling the fire.

Meanwhile, 29 children camping in Greece returned to Cyprus yesterday afternoon, cutting short their holiday as fires made their way towards the campsite. The children of Cypriot bank employees went to the Dionysos-Attica camping area on Saturday, joining another 300-odd children, and were meant to return tomorrow.

However, on arrival, the raging fires some seven kilometres away began to cause breathing problems for some of the children who used wet towels to combat the suffocating smoke from the nearby fires.

By nightfall, the decision was taken to move to a hotel in Athens, said head of the mission, Alkis Alkiviatis, where they stayed until their return yesterday. All children were in good health, though missing their suitcases which will be returned at a later date. By Sunday, the fire got as close as 700m away from the fire, said Alkiviatis.

The flames near Athens are estimated to have destroyed more than 150 homes and 30,000 acres of forest, farming fields and olive groves. Officials said more than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers and volunteers were fighting the blaze on the ground. Wildfires have forced thousands to flee their homes.

Copyright Cyprus Mail 2009

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:Aug 25, 2009
Words:642
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