12/03/2010, 00.00
ISRAEL
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Fire on Mount Carmel: 40 dead

A prison bus was engulfed in flames. So far almost 3 000 hectares destroyed. Netanyahu: "An unprecedented disaster." Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Russia, Turkey send air tankers and helicopters.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) - At least 40 people died in a fire yesterday on Mount Carmel in the north of Haifa. The fire continued to blaze throughout the night as Israel awaits the arrival of air-tankers from neighboring countries.

Most of the victims are prison guards who were traveling on the bus. Over 13 thousand people, including many prisoners were evacuated from the area. Police evacuated a university, three prisons and a hospital. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the affected area and spoke of an "unprecedented disaster."

The cause of the fire is not yet known. It may be due to drought, there has been no substantial rainfall in Israel since last spring. Yesterday the fire, aided by a strong wind advanced at a rate of 1500 meters every three minutes.

The Israeli media call the disaster "the worst fire in the history of the country”. As of yesterday evening, the destruction extended to almost 3 thousand hectares.

The State of Israel does not have the means to deal with fires of this size. For this reason Netanyahu has asked for international help and announced that Greece, Cyprus and Spain have now sent nine (Canadair) air tankers and a helicopter.

The Foreign Ministry said they expect a total of 17 aircraft and helicopters, two from Turkey - despite the difficult diplomatic crisis between the two countries, two from Russia, one from Croatia, three from Cyprus, one from Romania.

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