Earthquake Hits Crete, Greece

Important Takeaways:

  • Powerful 6.1-Magnitude Earthquake Hits Crete, Greece
  • According to the EMSC, the epicenter of the quake was located 89 kilometers (55 miles) from the city of Heraklion, at a depth of 80 kilometers (49 miles).
  • So far, there have been no reports of any damages or casualties caused by the earthquake.
  • The region lies in a seismologically active region as the Mediterranean Sea is a border between the African and Eurasian plates. As a result, Greece, Turkey, and other countries experience frequent tremors

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Greece imposes further restrictions on unvaccinated

By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) -Greece joined several other European countries on Thursday in imposing more restrictions on those unvaccinated against COVID-19 following a surge in infections in recent weeks.

From next Monday, unvaccinated people will be barred from indoor spaces including restaurants, cinemas, museums and gyms, even if they test negative for COVID-19, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

In a televised address to the nation, Mitsotakis urged Greeks to “get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated”.

Greece has so far fully vaccinated about 62% of its population of around 11 million. Authorities had hoped for a rate of about 70% by autumn.

“This is indeed a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Mitsotakis said. “Greece is mourning unnecessary losses because it simply does not have the vaccination rates of other European countries.”

Austria, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all limited public life for the unvaccinated this week as infections rise across Europe.

Under the new rules in Greece, vaccination certificates of those over 60 will be valid for seven months after being issued, in an effort to encourage them to get a third, “booster” shot.

Worshippers attending church will be allowed to enter with a negative test, Mitsotakis said.

The number of new daily infections hit record highs in Greece this month, putting pressure on an already struggling health care system and forcing the government to order private sector doctors in five regions in northern Greece to assist public hospitals.

The requisition order, published in the official government gazette on Thursday, is effective for a month.

Greece reported 7,317 new infections and 63 deaths on Thursday. This brings total infections since the start of the pandemic to 861,117 and the total death toll to 17,075.

Earlier in November, the government had imposed some restrictions on unvaccinated citizens but had allowed them access to most services, provided they tested negative

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, editing by Giles Elgood and Gareth Jones)

Quake wrecks old buildings in Crete, killing one person

By Angeliki Koutantou and George Georgiopoulos

ATHENS (Reuters) -An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 shook Greece’s largest island, Crete, on Monday morning, killing one person and injuring several, authorities said.

The tremor sent people fleeing out of homes, schools and public buildings across the island. Damage was reported to many old buildings close to the epicenter, in the east of the island.

The Greek infrastructure ministry said it had sent a group of civil engineers to assess the structural damage and assist in relief efforts.

A man died when the dome of a small chapel in the town of Arkalochori, some 30 km (20 miles) outside Crete’s main city Heraklion, caved in during renovation works, a police official said. The church was largely reduced to rubble.

Civil protection authorities said nine people were injured in the quake, which damaged mainly old, unοccupied buildings in the wider Arkalochori region.

Nevertheless many people in Heraklion rushed outdoors. Schoolchildren were told to leave their classrooms, gathering in schoolyards and town squares.

Supermarket shelves were toppled or emptied by the tremor. Schools in the Heraklion region were closed for the day.

A civil protection official said hotel rooms would be made available for people needing to stay outside their homes overnight, and 2,500 tents would also be put up.

The Athens Geodynamic Institute put the quake’s magnitude at 5.8 and said it was centered at a depth of 10 km, with an epicenter 23 km (14 miles) northwest of Arvi in southeastern Crete.

Earlier, the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) had measured the earthquake at a magnitude of 6.5, while the United States Geological Survey (USGS) put it at 6.0.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, George Georgiopoulos; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Kevin Liffey)

Greek PM sacks public order minister after wildfires

By Angeliki Koutantou and George Georgiopoulos

ATHENS (Reuters) -Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis replaced his public order and tourism ministers on Tuesday and created a new civil protection post following sharp criticism of the government’s response to a spate of summer wildfires.

More than a quarter of a million hectares of pine forests were destroyed in August by blazes that burned for several days across Greece, with flames reaching the outskirts of Athens. Homes and businesses were destroyed, two people were killed and thousands were forced to evacuate.

Mitsotakis, whose conservative government took office in July 2019, has apologized publicly for delays and breakdowns in the official response to the fires, and promised to rectify mistakes.

On Tuesday, he replaced Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis with Takis Theodorikakos, a political analyst and former interior minister.

He switched Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias, who last year oversaw Greece’s successful containment of the first wave of COVID-19 infections, to the country’s key tourism post in place of Harry Theoharis.

Mitsotakis’ spokesperson also announced the creation of a civil protection ministry to be headed by Evangelos Apostolakis, a retired admiral and former defense minister.

But Apostolakis, who served as defense minister under a previous Syriza leftist government, did not accept the post on grounds that an interparty consensus regarding his appointment had not been reached.

The prime minister’s office confirmed the rejection by Apostolakis and plans to look for a replacement for the post.

The prime minister set up a natural disaster recovery committee in mid-August in the wildfires’ aftermath.

The reshuffle, in which Finance Minister Christos Staikouras and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias were retained in their posts, comes less than two weeks before Mitsotakis is due to outline his 2022 economic policy in a keynote speech in Thessaloniki.

Greece’s economy relies strongly on tourism and is seen bouncing back by 3.6% this year as tourist arrivals pick up sharply following a dismal 2020, when coronavirus travel curbs were in force and it slumped 8.2%.

(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Edmund Blair, John Stonestreet and Philippa Fletcher)

Villagers evacuated as forest fire spreads near Athens

ATHENS (Reuters) – People were evacuated from two villages west of Athens on Monday as firefighters battled a new blaze in a forested area that was devastated by flames last week.

Authorities ordered the protective clearance of the villages of Vilia and Profitis Ιlias, about 50 km (30 miles) from the Greek capital, as strong winds fanned the blaze. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

More than 500 wildfires have broken out across Greece since the beginning of August, ravaging swathes of forest and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

The biggest one, on the island of Evia near Athens, burned for days before it was contained.

Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and other countries across the Mediterranean region have seen some of their highest temperatures in decades this summer.

A total of 85 firefighters, 13 helicopters and eight water bombing planes were sent in to contain the wildfire west of Athens on Monday, a fire brigade official said.

More than 9,000 hectares of thick pine forest were burned in the same area last week.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Greek firefighters battle growing forest blaze near Athens

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek firefighters on Wednesday battled a wildfire raging through one of the last remaining pine forests near Athens and said that homes could be at risk.

More than 500 wildfires have broken out in recent weeks across the country, ravaging swathes of forest and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

“Τhe flames are huge. I do not know what will happen, the fire is approaching homes,” Lefteris Kosmopoulos, deputy local governor of the Western Attica region, told state TV ERT.

Buses were on standby in Vilia, about 50 km (30 miles) from Athens, to evacuate residents if needed, as strong winds fanned a fire that started on Monday but had seemed under control. About a dozen smaller villages have been evacuated since Monday.

About 400 firefighters, assisted by additional firefighters from Poland, 15 helicopters and six firefighting planes, were dispatched to the area.

The biggest fire of the past few weeks, on the island of Evia near the capital, burned for days before being contained, ravaging swathes of forest in the north of the island.

Like other countries across the Mediterranean region including Turkey and Tunisia, Greece has seen some of its highest temperatures in decades this summer.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Gareth Jones)

Blazes flare anew in Greece but spare ancient Olympia

By Lefteris Papadimas and Leon Malherbe

EVIA, Greece, (Reuters) – A big blaze that swelled overnight forced the evacuation of many villages on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula on Wednesday, as exhausted firefighters battled wildfires for a ninth consecutive day and as fires also raged in Algeria, Turkey and elsewhere.

In the north of Evia, Greece’s second-largest island, flare-ups remained the main problem for firefighters, who were joined by volunteers to combat the flames.

In the Peloponnese, a flare-up started near ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games, but spread to Gortynia as it intensified late on Tuesday, burning virgin forest and prompting authorities to evacuate 20 villages.

About 580 Greek firefighters, helped by colleagues from France, Britain, Germany and the Czech Republic, were battling the blazes in Gortynia.

The fires broke out during Greece’s worst heatwave in three decades last week, with searing temperatures and dry heat causing tinder box conditions.

At the Pefki seaside resort on Evia, cafeteria owner Thrasyvoulos Kotzias, 34, looked at an empty beach.

“If we did not have these problems the beach at Pefki would be full of people. Right now it is just us,” he said.

“If helicopters and water bombing planes had come right away and operated for six, seven hours, the wildfire would have been put out in the first day,” he said.

A Russian Ilyushin Il-76 water bombing plane arrived in Athens on Tuesday to help firefighting operations and a second plane was due to be stationed in Thessaloniki, northern Greece.

‘HARD CHOICES’

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni told reporters the wildfires in the north of Athens had destroyed a large swathe of forest in the former royal estate at Tatoi, damaging seven buildings.

“What we have lived through is unprecedented, we cannot easily forget the images we saw,” said Mendoni, adding that the fires had largely spared cultural monuments.

More than 500 fires have burned across Greece in the last week, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people.

“Our climate is changing and we need to make hard choices as a species to avoid the worst,” astronaut Thomas Pesquet tweeted from the International Space Station orbiting the Earth. “My heart goes out to all affected by the wildfires and the intense heat in the Mediterranean.”

At least 65 people have been killed in wildfires tearing through forests in northern Algeria, state television reported on Wednesday. Meanwhile Turkey’s northern coast was hit by flooding after some of the biggest wildfires in the country’s history had ravaged its southeast.

Credit ratings agency Moody’s said in a report that the wildfires in Greece had highlighted its vulnerability to climate change, though it said the related costs were manageable.

The government has announced a relief package of 500 million euros – about 0.3% of nominal economic output – but Moody’s noted that devastating wildfires in 2007 caused total estimated damage of nearly 3 billion euros, or 1.3% of nominal output.

“Aside from direct fiscal support, disruption triggered by wildfires, including power and water outages, poor air quality and road closures is also likely to weigh on tourism, a credit negative for the country’s local governments,” Moody’s said.

The U.N. climate panel sounded a dire warning this week that the world’s greenhouse gas levels were high enough to guarantee climate disruption for decades.

(Writing by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Greek villagers try to save homes as wildfires burn for eighth day

By Lefteris Papadimas and Leon Malherbe

AVGARIA, Greece (Reuters) -Residents mounted a round the clock watch on Tuesday to try to save their homes from wildfires still ravaging the Greek island of Evia, as the government defended its handling of the crisis.

Fire crews were bracing for winds to pick up later on Tuesday which could intensify flare ups on Greece’s second largest island, where fires were burning for an eighth day. Other fronts in the Peloponnese could also be reignited.

The government was due to announce relief measures for those who have lost homes and property, but for some villagers, leaving their houses to the flames turning the skies a deep red was not an option.

“Police came and told us to evacuate the village of Avgaria but we cannot, this is our property. We cannot let our homes burn,” said Ioannis Aggelopoulos, 55, who owns a car body shop at Istiaia, on the island’s northern tip.

“We have been sleeping in shifts.”

Residents were using hoses to put out fires burning near their homes and helping firefighters and volunteers.

In Athens, the main political opposition blamed the government for using climate change as an excuse to cover up deficiencies in its handling of the crisis.

“Climate change is without doubt an especially dangerous reality. However, it cannot be used as an excuse by the government because it ignored our warnings and those of scientists,” Alexis Tsipras, head of the left-wing SYRIZA party, told reporters.

On Monday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized for failures in tackling the wildfires that have burned across the country as authorities began counting the cost in lost homes and livelihoods.

He is chairing a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and the government is due to announce relief measures for those who lost homes, farms and other property.

On Monday he approved a 500-million-euro budget for aid for Evia and the Attica region around Athens.

Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters the state apparatus did everything possible as it was faced with 586 wildfires in eight days during the worst heatwave in 30 years.

“Do not shoot the fighters in the hour of battle. Every home lost for us is a stab in the heart,” Hardalias said. “The losses we suffered involved fighters, not civilians.”

One volunteer firefighter has died and three others have been hospitalized.

Sentinel-2 satellite imagery showed swathes of forest scorched by the wildfires in Attica, Evia and the Peloponnese, with the Athens National Observatory estimating that about 650,000 hectares had been burned in total until Sunday.

More than 500 fires have been burning across Greece, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people. Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help.

Mitsotakis promised that forests destroyed by the fires would be restored and climate defenses would be built up.

(Writing by George Georgiopoulos;Editing by Alison Williams and Janet Lawrence)

PM apologizes as Greece counts costs of wildfire catastrophe

By Lefteris Papadimas

PEFKI, Greece (Reuters) -Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized on Monday for failures in tackling the devastating wildfires that have burned across Greece for the past week as the country counted the cost in lost homes and livelihoods.

As fires burned unabated in many parts of the country for a seventh day, the biggest front was on Evia, Greece’s second-biggest island located just off the mainland east of Athens.

“It burned everything, there’s nothing left,” said 77-year-old Makis Ladogiannakis, sitting in a cafe in the seaside town of Pefki, where a ferry waited to evacuate more locals and tourists to safety if needed, as in previous days.

“The fire was the biggest catastrophe for the village,” he said. “People lived off resin production and the olive trees.”

More than 500 fires have been burning across Greece, forcing the evacuation of dozens of villages and thousands of people and there has been growing public anger at delays and breakdowns in the government’s response.

Mitsotakis went on television late on Monday to make a public apology and promised that mistakes would be identified and rectified but called for unity.

“I fully understand the pain of our fellow citizens who saw their homes or property burned,” he said. “Any failures will be identified. And responsibility will be assigned wherever necessary.”

Mitsotakis promised that forests destroyed by the fires would be restored and climate defenses be built up, and he pledged compensation for those whose property was destroyed in the fires.

He approved a 500 million-euro package of aid for Evia and the Attica region around Athens. Ministers were due to meet on Tuesday to discuss further support measures.

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Strong winds on Monday fueled flare-ups on Evia after appearing to ease earlier in the day. Water-bombing aircraft struggled to operate because of the large plumes of smoke blanketing the area, authorities said.

The fires broke out last week during Greece’s worst heatwave in three decades, with searing temperatures and dry heat causing tinder box conditions.

“The climate crisis is knocking on the door of the entire planet,” Mitsotakis said, just hours after a U.N. report said global warming was dangerously close to being out of control.

Temperatures had cooled somewhat in Greece, but were forecast to rise again during the week, meaning the risk of flare-ups remained high.

“It’s sad. All my childhood memories are burned right now,” said Richard Konstantine Allen, who lives in Athens but went back to try to save his property. “I used to run in this forest, to cycle to collect fruit, now everything is gone.”

In Athens, officials began to assess the damage from a blaze which tore through several suburbs north of the city last week before beginning to recede on Saturday.

“Our aim is to complete the inventory as soon as possible, in order to immediately begin the process of compensating our affected fellow citizens,” the ministry of infrastructure and transport said in a statement.

The blaze, which broke out on the foothills of Mount Parthina on the outskirts of the capital, sent thousands of people fleeing and damaged homes and businesses as well as thousands of hectares of forest land.

Almost 1,000 firefighters, nine aircraft and 200 vehicles have been sent to Greece from other European countries to help with the wildfires. In addition, Greece said on Monday it was expecting two aircraft from Turkey and an additional plane from Russia.

More than 2,000 residents and tourists have been evacuated by ferry since last Tuesday – the images of them departing against the backdrop of a dark red sky becoming emblematic of the blazes.

(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Alison Williams)

No end to Greek inferno as wildfires rage into the night

By George Georgiopoulos and Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) -Wildfires in Greece raged into the night burning more forest and homes in the northern outskirts of Athens and other parts of the country and forcing more evacuations as more international aid was on the way.

Authorities struggled with 154 wildfires across the country on Friday with the biggest fronts still burning in the north of Athens, the island of Evia and areas in the Peloponnese including Mani, Messinia and ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.

“We are facing another, more difficult night,” Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters. “Wildfires of unprecedented intensity and spread, all our forces are fighting the battle day and night to save lives, together with volunteers.”

In the northern part of the island of Evia near Athens, the coast guard evacuated 650 people by boat as wildfires burned through forestland all the way to the shore for the fourth day.

As night approached, firefighters kept battling a continuous resurgence of blazes in the north of Athens which, fanned by strong winds, threatened to engulf the lake of Marathon and go up Mount Parnitha.

Greece, like much of the rest of Europe, has been grappling with extreme weather this summer. A week-long heatwave – its worst in 30 years – has sparked simultaneous wildfires in many parts of the country, burning homes and killing animals as flames tear through thousands of acres of land.

The fire, which broke out on Tuesday, burned around the main highway linking Athens to northern Greece and hundreds of firefighters with water-bombing aircraft battled to contain it.

A 38-year-old man was killed on Friday by a falling electricity pylon in a suburb north of Athens, the hospital where he was treated said.

In neighboring Turkey, authorities are battling the country’s worst-ever wildfires. Flames sweeping through its southwestern coastal regions forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. In Italy, hot winds fanned flames on the island of Sicily this week.

Police went door to door on Friday urging people to leave their homes north of Athens. Authorities ordered the evacuation of more suburbs in the north of Athens as the blaze advanced, burning more homes, cars and businesses.

“We are witnessing a catastrophe of historic proportions and climate change is the basic cause,” said Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s main political opposition. “We must support our frontline fighters and all who lost the efforts of a lifetime in a few minutes.”

FIERY DISASTER

Temperatures have been over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) all week and little let up came on Friday with high winds spreading the flames further.

The Athens power grid operator announced staggered power cuts in the surrounding region to ensure there were no major outages in mainland Greece.

In Gytheio in the southern Peloponnese, a coast guard vessel rescued 10 people from a beach as a blaze there flared. Locals made desperate calls for firefighting aircraft.

More foreign help was on the way with Switzerland sending three helicopters, joining other countries, including France, Cyprus, Israel, Sweden and the Ukraine who sent firefighters and water-bombing aircraft, the civil protection minister said.

The U.S. Navy was sending a P-8 aerial reconnaissance aircraft to support firefighting efforts.

In the Peloponnese, where firefighters saved Ancient Olympia from a fire this week, the flames left behind scorched earth and dead animals.

“A catastrophe,” said farmer Marinos Anastopoulos. “The fire came around midday with swirling winds and homes were burned, a lot of animals burned to death. Rabbits, sheep, dogs, everything.”

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Lefteris Papadimas, Giorgos Moutafis and Rami Ayyub; Writing by George Georgiopoulos and Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Giles Elgood, William Maclean and Aurora Ellis)