Portugal's Interior Minister Resigns Over Wildfires Criticism

Smoke and flames from a forest fire are seen near Lousa, Portugal, October 16, 2017. (REUTERS)
Smoke and flames from a forest fire are seen near Lousa, Portugal, October 16, 2017. (REUTERS)
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Portugal's Interior Minister Resigns Over Wildfires Criticism

Smoke and flames from a forest fire are seen near Lousa, Portugal, October 16, 2017. (REUTERS)
Smoke and flames from a forest fire are seen near Lousa, Portugal, October 16, 2017. (REUTERS)

Portugal’s government minister in charge of emergency services resigned Wednesday after more than a hundred people were killed in wildfires in the past months.

Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa tendered her resignation and Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a statement he accepted it, the government announced on its website.

The Interior Ministry is in charge of firefighters, the police and civil protection agency, which have all faced criticism after the fires.

Urbano de Sousa said in her resignation letter published on the website that she wanted to quit after 64 people were killed in a wildfire four months ago, but Costa asked her to stay. She repeated her request after 42 people died in another spate of wildfires last weekend.

She wrote that after last weekend, "though the tragedy was caused by multiple factors, I came to the conclusion that I could not continue for political and personal reasons."

Hundreds of fires have raged across northern and central Portugal since Sunday after the driest summer in nearly 90 years, overwhelming firefighting and rescue services.

Meanwhile, overnight rain and calmer winds have helped firefighters tame the deadly wildfires that broke out over the weekend, devouring homes and killing 41 people in Portugal and another four in northern Spain.

Portugal's civil protection agency said Tuesday that the 15 biggest fires, which had raged through the center and the north of the country, had been brought under control, but that the death toll had risen.

"We've gone from 37 dead to 41," civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar told AFP.

As the country began three days of mourning for the victims, the agency said 71 people had been injured in the fires, 16 of them seriously. And one person was still missing.

Among the dead was a one-month-old baby.

"Most of the victims were killed in their cars, but we also found them inside their houses," said Jose Carlos Alexandrino, mayor of Oliveira do Hospital near Coimbra, speaking to broadcaster RTP.

"The whole city looked like a ball of fire, surrounded by flames on all sides."

Portugal's conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called on the socialist government to "bear all the consequences of this tragedy".

Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Monday reaffirmed his pledge to prevent new tragedies by carrying out "fundamental reforms" in forest management and firefighting.

Since the start of the year, more than 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) of vegetation have been consumed across Portugal -- four times the annual average over the past decade -- according to an estimate from the European Forest Fire Information System.

Portugal is covered with fast-burning eucalyptus trees which are used to supply the country's paper industry, and it is also vulnerable to strong winds coming off the Atlantic.



One Person Found Dead, 2 Missing in Switzerland Floods

This aerial photograph shows a view of the hamlet of Sorte, south of Lostallo in the Moesa Region in the Swiss canton of Graubunden (Grisons) after violent downpours caused floods and landslides on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)
This aerial photograph shows a view of the hamlet of Sorte, south of Lostallo in the Moesa Region in the Swiss canton of Graubunden (Grisons) after violent downpours caused floods and landslides on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)
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One Person Found Dead, 2 Missing in Switzerland Floods

This aerial photograph shows a view of the hamlet of Sorte, south of Lostallo in the Moesa Region in the Swiss canton of Graubunden (Grisons) after violent downpours caused floods and landslides on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)
This aerial photograph shows a view of the hamlet of Sorte, south of Lostallo in the Moesa Region in the Swiss canton of Graubunden (Grisons) after violent downpours caused floods and landslides on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)

Rescuers in Switzerland have found the body of one of three people who had gone missing on Saturday after massive thunderstorms and rainfall in the southeast of the country caused a rockslide, Swiss authorities say. The other two are still missing.
One woman was pulled out alive from the rubble earlier on Saturday morning, The Associated Press reported.
“Today is a sad day,” said Ignazio Cassis, member of the Swiss Federal Council, who addressed reporters Sunday after traveling to the region to show solidarity with the victims on behalf of the Swiss Federal Government.
A team of 200 rescuers has been searching for the missing people since Saturday with excavators, specially-trained search dogs, drones and army helicopters. But the likelihood of finding them alive is low, William Kloter from the Swiss police, who is heading the rescue operations, told reporters Sunday.
Search operations had to be halted during the night due to heavy rain.
The rockslide hit a group of three houses in the municipality of Lostallo in the Alpine valley of Misox in Graubünden.
Swiss authorities also said that a segment of the Swiss motorway A13 leading towards Italy had been completely submerged and destroyed by flooding. The major transit route between the key San Bernardino Pass and Roveredo in Graubünden will likely remain closed for several months.