Villages evacuated as fire burns Greek island nature reserve

The Acropolis and the Parthenon, in Athens, are covered in smoke from a wildfire burning on nearby Evia island. (Reuters)
Updated 13 August 2019

Villages evacuated as fire burns Greek island nature reserve

  • More than 220 firefighters were deployed to tackle the fire that was burning out of control in Evia, along with six water-dropping planes and seven helicopters
  • Last year, more than 100 people died when a fast-moving forest fire broke out in a seaside area northeast of Athens and raged through a nearby settlement of mainly holiday homes

ATHENS, Greece: Hundreds of firefighters battled wildfires in Greece Tuesday, with the largest burning through a thickly forested nature reserve on the island of Evia north of Athens where three villages have been evacuated.
More than 220 firefighters were deployed to tackle the fire that was burning out of control in Evia, along with six water-dropping planes and seven helicopters.
Smoke from the fire blanketed the Greek capital in the morning. The country’s civil protection authority warned people in affected areas, particularly the elderly, young children and those suffering from breathing or heart conditions, to remain indoors and set air conditioning units to recycle indoor air.
Dozens more firefighters, two planes and a helicopter tackled a separate forest fire on the northern island of Thassos. A third wildfire was burning through brush and dried weeds near Thebes, northwest of Athens, while another broke out in southern Greece, burning woodland and agricultural areas. More than 30 firefighters were tackling the fourth blaze.
Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summer months. Authorities have repeatedly warned the public not to engage in outdoor activities that could cause fires, such as welding work, burning dried weeds or lighting campfires and barbecues. Parks and forest areas are sometimes closed to the public at times of high fire risk.
Last year, more than 100 people died when a fast-moving forest fire broke out in a seaside area northeast of Athens and raged through a nearby settlement of mainly holiday homes.
The fire trapped people in their cars as they attempted to flee, while many other victims drowned as they tried to swim away from beaches overcome by heat and choking smoke.


Samoa shuts schools, declares emergency as measles kills 6

Updated 6 min 26 sec ago

Samoa shuts schools, declares emergency as measles kills 6

  • Schools were closed from Monday after the government declared an emergency on Saturday
  • The National University of Samoa told students to stay home and said exams scheduled for this week had been indefinitely postponed

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Samoa has closed all its schools, banned children from public gatherings and mandated that everybody get vaccinated after declaring an emergency due to a measles outbreak that has so far killed six people.

For the past three weeks, the Pacific island nation of 200,000 people has been in the grip of a measles epidemic that has been exacerbated by low immunization rates.

Schools were closed from Monday after the government declared an emergency on Saturday. The National University of Samoa also told students to stay home and said exams scheduled for this week had been indefinitely postponed.

Health authorities said most of those who died were under the age of 2. They counted 716 measles cases reported, with nearly 100 people still hospitalized including 15 in intensive care.

Samoa’s Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri said in a news conference last week that he expects the epidemic will get worse. He said that only about two-thirds of Samoans had been vaccinated, leaving the others vulnerable to the virus.

But figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF indicate that measles immunization rates among Samoan infants have fallen steeply from over 70 percent in 2013 to under 30 percent last year.

Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, said the Samoan government halted its immunization program for several months last year after two infants died from a medical mishap involving a vaccine.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday it was sending 3,000 vaccines to Samoa as well as nurses and medical supplies.
Ardern said Samoan authorities believe the outbreak was started by a traveler from New Zealand.

“We, of course, have an open flow of people,” Ardern said. “But we see our responsibility as supporting Samoa as they deal with the outbreak, and we are doing that actively.”

Petousis-Harris said it was disappointing that people in New Zealand who were carrying the virus had traveled to Samoa. She said New Zealand has for years known it has immunity gaps.

“But we didn’t deal with the problem,” she said.

Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand have also reported outbreaks of measles but on a smaller scale than in Samoa.