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Greece wildfires: '60 dead' in holiday area

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At least 60 people have reportedly died in wildfires in the Attica region around Athens, in Greece’s worst fire crisis in more than a decade.

A local official gave the death toll to local media after fire devastated the seaside village of Mati.

Rescuers found the bodies of 26 adults and children who apparently hugged each other as they died, trapped by the inferno just metres from the sea.

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.

Hundreds of firefighters have been 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, 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?

Fire swept through the village 40km (25 miles) north-east of Athens on Monday and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday morning.

Evangelos Bournous, mayor of the town of Rafina, told Skai TV that at least 60 people had perished.

Desperate families trying to reach the safety of the sea were trapped by walls of smoke and flame. Others died in buildings or cars.

After the 26 bodies were found in an open space, Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, said: “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.”

Coastal patrol boats and private vessels picked up hundreds of those who did manage to reach harbours or beaches.

“Thankfully the sea was there and we went into the sea, because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water,” said one survivor, Kostas Laganos.

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

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.

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

At least 150 people were injured in the area.

How are the authorities responding?

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

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.

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

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


Are you in the area? How have you been affected by the wildfires? Email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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