Published: Sat, July 28, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Greece seeks survivors, answers after fire

Greece seeks survivors, answers after fire

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

Fanned by gale-force winds that frequently changed direction, the flames spread rapidly into populated seaside towns - too fast for many who were in their cars or homes to flee, fire department spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said.

Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together in a field just 30 meters from the sea near Mati in eastern Greece.

About 300 firemen and volunteers combed through the area looking for dozens reported missing, among them two 9-year old sisters.

Mati is a popular tourist spot for Greeks, particularly pensioners and children at summer camps.

The Government sought worldwide assistance to cope with the fires, which have destroyed dozens of homes, burned cars and prompted residents and tourists to flee to beaches east of Athens for dramatic rescues by boats.

"Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy", Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he appeared on TV to declare three days of national mourning.

It broke out in Mati late on Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas yesterday.

Coast guard boats patrolled the shores near fire-hit areas after more than 700 people trapped by quick-moving fires had to be rescued from beaches or the sea, where six of the dead were found. "I have never seen such a hard thing before".

Two major forest fires raged out of control Monday on either side of Athens, burning houses, prompting residents to flee and turning the sky over Athens a hazy orange from the smoke.

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In total, at least 74 people had been killed and the death toll was expected to rise, a fire brigade spokesman said.

Flames have also broken out near the town of Kineta and the Penteli area. They also said authorities did not have an evacuation plan ready.

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Greece declared a state of emergency and appealed to its European Union partners for assistance in dealing with the fires, Efe news reported.

"I said my God, we must run to save ourselves".

Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summers, and temperatures recently hit highs up to 40 degrees Celsius.

People walk amongst the burned-out cars in Mati east of Athens, Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

The first fire started in the Geraneia mountains near Kineta, prompting three villages to be evacuated.

In a fire earlier on Monday, Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region west of Athens to abandon their homes as a wildfire burned ferociously, closing one of Greece's busiest motorways, halting train links and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.

"I'm concerned at the simultaneous outbreaks both east and west of Attica", added Tsipras, who later cut short his trip overseas and was scheduled to return to Greece.

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