Central Portugal forest fires: 61 Dead, PM Calls Disaster a 'Tragedy'

  • Central Portugal forest fires: 61 Dead, PM Calls Disaster a 'Tragedy'

Central Portugal forest fires: 61 Dead, PM Calls Disaster a 'Tragedy'

Once the flames have been extinguished, however, there will no doubt be an investigation into why so many victims apparently died after finding themselves cut off, encircled by fire and stranded along roads they took while trying to flee by vehicle.

"Portugal weeps for Pedrogao Grande", said the I newspaper while mainstream Publico's headline simply read "Why?"

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. Other major fires located near Coimbra and Castelo Branco, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Firefighters were also continuing a grim search for bodies, with Costa warning on Sunday that the death toll could still rise.

Water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy arrived as part of a European Union cooperation program but they were grounded in some places because thick smoke limited visibility, officials said.

The UN chief went on to commend the Government, firefighters, emergency responders and civil society organizations who are sparing no efforts to battle the wildfire and help people in need. Five of the injured were in critical condition (four firemen and a child).

"The United Nations stands ready to assist in any way possible", the Secretary-General concluded.

President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet victims' families, saying he was "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people". "We found the tree hit by the lightning", he said. With no rain to wet the land, fires start and are fanned more quickly by gusty winds. Some local residents said they had been without the support of firefighters for hours as their homes burned.

"It was really hell. I thought the end of the world had come", said Maria de Fatima Nunes, another survivor.

Abandoned and burnt-out cars can be seen strewn along roadsides as raging infernos destroyed everything in their wake in the Pedrógão Grande region.

Interior minister Jorge Gomes said 18 of those burned to death had been trapped in their cars engulfed by flames on the road between Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.

Other bodies were found in houses in isolated areas.

A burnt truck next to a gate in the village of Pobrais, near Pedrogao Grande, central Portugal, Monday, June 19 2017. He came across a family of four elderly people and stopped to pick them up. France's foreign ministry said a French citizen was among those killed.

However, most victims were caught while still in their vehicles after fleeing their homes.

Boxes of donated food and drinks were outside the makeshift refuge, the air still reeking of smoke. "We want to stop this as fast as we can".

"Some people stayed. Now we're waiting to see". He says "the family got out and they were kissing the vehicle".

"We've heard everything burnt around our house but the house is ok. We just have to wait".

Portugal has suffered high temperatures that have reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degress Fahrenheit) in recent days.

Many forest fires in Portugal are caused by arson or carelessness.

In fact, thousands of firefighters battled at at least 12 huge fires there in 2016.

A British man has told of his dramatic escape from a wildfire that killed 62 people in central Portugal.

A forest fire is seen near Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal.

This post was syndicated from The Independent Uganda:.