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Greece wildfires: Nearly 50 dead in holiday area

Media captionDeadly forest fires rage near Athens

Nearly 50 people have died in wildfires burning in the Attica region around Athens, in Greece’s worst fire crisis in more than a decade.

According to the local mayor, 26 bodies were found in a yard in the seaside village of Mati, which is at the centre of the disaster.

The fire brigade confirmed an overall death toll of 49, with many of the dead believed to be young children.

Many calls have been made to the rescue services looking for missing persons.

As part of a huge rescue effort, emergency workers used boats and helicopters to evacuate a beach.

A search-and-rescue operation is being conducted for 10 tourists who fled one of the fires in a boat, officials say.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling the blazes and the authorities are seeking international assistance.

“We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters.

The most shocking scene I ever witnessed

By Kostas Koukoumakas, journalist, Mati

What is happening here in eastern Attica is a black hell. After I passed by hundreds of burning cars and houses earlier today, I reached the yard where police said so many people had been found dead.

I could see some of them lying on the ground as fog covered the place and a toxic smell spread through the atmosphere.

Most of them were tourists who had tried to find refuge but did not make it.

“I am calling my cousin but he does not respond,” said Spiros Hatziandreou, who visited the spot. I could see flames on the trees and the electricity pillars all around. After that, police blocked access to everyone except rescuers.

How badly burnt is Mati?

Most of the victims were trapped in the village 40km (25 miles) north-east of Athens, and died either in their homes or their cars.

The village is located in the Rafina region which is popular with local tourists, especially pensioners and children attending holiday camps, Reuters news agency notes.

The charred bodies in the yard were lying just 15m (50ft) from the sea, photographer Pantelis Saitas told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

“These people must have tried to find a way out into the sea but they were likely trapped in the flames,” he said.

At least 150 people were injured in the area,

“Thankfully the sea was there and we went into the sea, because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water,” said Kostas Laganos, who also survived the Mati fire.

“It burned our backs and we dived into the water… I said my God, we must run to save ourselves.”

How are the authorities responding?

Prime Minister Tsipras has declared a state of emergency in Attica, saying “all emergency forces” had been mobilised.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

Smoke over a suburb of Athens

His government has asked other European countries for helicopters and additional firefighters to help tackle the fires.

Italy, Germany, Poland and France have all sent help in the form of planes, vehicles and firefighters, and Spain and Cyprus have offered Greece assistance, but with temperatures set to soar again, they are in a race against time to get the fires under control.

Help is also needed in Sweden where at least one person has been killed and dozens injured by forest fires there as soaring temperatures continue across much of Europe.

The wildfires are the worst to hit Greece since 2007, when dozens of people were killed in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

What caused the fires?

Fires are a recurring problem during the hot, dry summer months in Attica. The flames this week were fanned by high winds.

Officials quoted by AFP news agency have suggested the current blazes may have been started by arsonists looking to loot abandoned homes.


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Greece wildfires: Nearly 50 dead in holiday area

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