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Greece wildfires: Search for missing family members after 80 dead

Media captionWildfires cause devastation in Greece

Greek authorities are looking for dozens of people missing after the deadly wildfires near Athens.

At least 80 people have died, and a search continues for survivors who fled the blaze, including those who took to the sea.

High winds spread the fire, trapping many in homes and vehicles and forcing others into the water as they tried to escape the flames.

The fire is now widely reported to be the deadliest on record in Greece.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of mourning.

One father, Yiannis Philippopoulos, told Greek television his nine-year-old twin girls were still missing.

He said he had seen his daughters, Sophia and Vasiliki, alive on TV news footage as they got off a fishing boat that had rescued them. But he has not since heard from them or their grandparents, who had been with them earlier that day.

There is no formal count of the missing. The fire brigade has received dozens of calls, but is unable to verify the exact number.

Relatives of those reported missing have posted photographs of more than 30 people online in the hope of tracing their whereabouts.

Coastal patrol boats combed the shoreline on Wednesday, searching for survivors and bodies, while rescue teams searched houses and cars.

The mayor of Rafina, Evangelos Bournous, has told the BBC that the dead could exceed 100.

The number of injured, meanwhile, continues to grow, and stands at more than 180, including two dozen or so children. Tourists were also caught up in the blaze, including one British man who was treated for burns.

Others have been evacuated to temporary accommodation.

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Residents have been told to abandon their homes

Final embrace

On Tuesday, the bodies of 26 adults and children who apparently died embracing each other were found on a cliff top.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced, ” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, said.

Hundreds of firefighters had battled the flames on Monday night amid winds of up to 100km/h (60mph).

Among those killed as the fires swept Eastern Attica were a Belgian tourist and a Polish woman and her son.

More than 70 people were still being treated in hospital on Wednesday, and 10 were in a serious condition, Greek reports said.

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Rescuers continue their search of the area

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared a state of emergency in Attica, saying all emergency services have been mobilised.

Italy, Germany, Poland and France have all sent help in the form of planes, vehicles and firefighters, while Spain, Turkey, and Cyprus have also offered assistance.

The government in Athens as well as emergency services have faced claims that their response to Monday’s emergency was too slow.

A Supreme Court prosecutor has ordered a probe into the cause of the fire, amid allegations that there was no evacuation plan in place.

‘Biblical catastrophe’

The seaside resort of Mati is popular with foreign tourists and locals, especially pensioners and children attending holiday camps.

Survivor Kostas Laganos said: “It burned our backs and we dived into the water… I said: ‘My God, we must run to save ourselves.'”

George Vokas, whose family also escaped by sea, told the BBC that two women he had tried to help had died in his arms.

“We’re talking about a biblical catastrophe in this wonderful area of Mati,” he said.

Greek reports suggested that 1,500 homes had been damaged and many had been destroyed.

Charred bodies lay just 15m (50ft) from the sea, photographer Pantelis Saitas told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

What caused the fires?

Fires are a recurring problem during the hot, dry summer months in Attica.

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

“Fifteen fires were started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens,” said government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.

Greece, he added, had requested drones from the US to “detect any suspicious activity”.

Greece’s last major fire disaster was in 2007, when 77 people were killed in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

Wildfires are a major concern across Europe this summer. Sweden has also battled fires the length of the country, while Latvian authorities suspect arson was behind a major peat and forest fire in Valdgale County that burned for days.

The serious nature of such fires and their wide geographical spread has led to speculation that climate change may be the cause.

While no individual weather event can be linked to climate change, a general correlation does exist between warmer global temperatures and the dry conditions that can spark several dangerous fires at once.

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Greece wildfires: Search for missing family members after 80 dead

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