Greece wildfires: Scores killed near Athens, officials say

Three days of mourning declared as death toll from forest fires in several places around the Greek capital hits 74.

    At least 74 people have died and scores more injured as wildfires tore through woodland and villages around the Greek capital, Athens, local officials said. 

    The death toll rose sharply on Tuesday after 26 bodies were found near the harbour town of Rafina, according to Red Cross workers and the region's vice mayor, Girgos Kokkolis.

    Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared three days of national mourning. 

    According to officials, at least 187 people, including 23 children, were injured in the fires, which damaged structures, disrupted major transport links and sent people fleeing their homes.

    Greece's fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire in the coastal village of Mati, about 29km east of Athens, had slowed on Tuesday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control. Mati is located in the Rafina region. 

    The fire department urged residents to report missing relatives and friends.

    Streets lined with burned-out cars

    Firefighters in Mati told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that they were able to get to places that were unreachable on Monday night due to the strength of the flames. 

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    The streets of the village were lined with burned-out cars and the nearby fields were completely charred, with small fires still simmering. 

    "Mati doesn't even exist as a settlement anymore," one woman told Greece's Skai TV. "I saw corpses, burned-out cars. I feel lucky to be alive."

    Fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said that "residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few metres from the sea or in their homes". 

    One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. 

    Rescue workers were using forklifts to stack charred cars so emergency vehicles could get through the streets. 

    People look inside a burned-out car following a wildfire at the village of Mati [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]


    In the neighbourhoods closer to the beach, residents and visitors were examining the wreckage of their homes.

    Another blaze broke out on Monday in a forest near the coastal settlement of Kineta, about 55km west of Athens. 

    The causes of the fires are still unknown. 

    Planes were continuing to drop water on the affected areas at mid-day on Tuesday.

    Urgent help

    A state of emergency was declared in the Athens metropolitan area and Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia to return to Greece

    "We are dealing with something completely asymmetric," Tsipras said. 

    Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.

    A state of emergency was declared in the Athens metropolitan area [Reuters]

    Authorities said they would be making use of an unmanned drone from the United States on Tuesday to monitor and track any suspicious activity.

    Tsipras and Greek officials have expressed misgivings at the fact that several major fires broke out at the same time.

    The fires in Mati were by far Greece's worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. 

    Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create the current tinder-box conditions. 

    With additional reporting by Patrick Strickland from Mati, Greece. 

     

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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