Abbas extends condolences over Portugal deadly forest fire

20 June, 2017, 11:53 | Author: Valerie Burke
  • Police investigators stand by a burned car on the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos central Portugal on Sunday. — AP

Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who on Sunday visited the affected a mountainous area about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, called it the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory. "The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger". The European Union has also promised to provide firefighting aircraft. Spain has sent two water-bombing planes to help in tackling the fires. The region has endured long months of drought and heatwaves - with temperatures sometimes reaching over 40 degrees Celsius in some areas.

It spread fast and the firefighters were battling 156 fires across the country on Sunday.

Jorge Gomes, secretary of state for the interior, said that 16 of the casualties had been killed when their cars were engulfed by flames as they drove along a local road. At least 59 were injured.

Among those injured, four are in serious condition and damages to several homes nearby were reported.

The prime minister said the death toll could rise as firefighters inspected charred remains of some buildings in remote villages. At least three villages near Pedrogao Grande were evacuated. Some were sheltered in neighbouring areas.

A few kilometres north of Nodeirinho, 11 people died in the village of Pobrais.

Officials were not immediately able to comment on the extent of the damage.

The government has declared three days of national mourning, which started Sunday.

"My thoughts are with the victims in Portugal", EU commission head Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted.

More than 350 soldiers joined the 700 firefighters who have been struggling to put out the blaze. Dozens of people died while trying to escape from their vehicles.

Already, the fatalities have made the wildfire the worst in half a century in a small country where deadly blazes have become increasingly severe and routine, as longstanding land management problems collide with changes in climate that produce hotter, drier summers. In August, four people were killed in a blaze on the popular tourist island of Madeira.

This is the deadliest fire in Portugal since 1966, when 25 people were killed during a wildfire near Lisbon, according to The Telegraph.

"It's especially heartbreaking to see the kids caught up in the fire", said Dina Santos, who's lived in Toronto for the past eight years and works at Pavao grocery store in Little Portugal.

The municipality's president, Valdemar Alves, was stunned by the violent wildfire that left many people dead.

The fire broke out Saturday just before 3:00 pm (1400 GMT).

"It's going to be a long time until they are stopped", said Paulo Santos, commander of Portugal's national civil-protection agency.

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