Greek authorities on Tuesday confirmed at least 20 deaths and over 100 other casualties from wildfires that broke out in a small seaside resort near Athens on Monday, amid fears for more victims as the flames raged on uncontrolled.
The dead included a six-month-old baby, who died of smoke inhalation.
At least 7 people have died in Greece trying to escape multiple, fast-moving forest fires outside Athens. The number is expected to rise. It is already Greece’s deadliest wildfire since 60+ people died in 2007.
On the coast, volunteers are helping people evacuate by boat: pic.twitter.com/I8dQM0096s
— AJ+ (@ajplus) July 23, 2018
Government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said in a televised statement that 88 adults and 16 children were injured as the blaze swept through Mati, a village about 29 km east of Athens in the Rafina region, a popular tourist destination.
Greek Navy ships, along with Coast Guard vessels and fishing boats, rushed to the area braving strong winds to help evacuate hundreds of people stranded on beaches.
Survivors who fled to the sea and were rescued told media as they reached the Rafina Port that they had seen charred bodies next to burned homes and cars.
#Greece ?? & #Latvia ?? have both activated the #EUCivPro requesting assistance to combat the #forestfires that have endangered homes and properties. I urgently call on all participating states to show their #solidarity and offer assistance.
— Christos Stylianides (@StylianidesEU) July 23, 2018
Volunteers carried children in swimsuits and the elderly suffering respiratory problems caused by the smoke on their shoulders. The evacuees burst into tears of relief as they were embraced by relatives waiting anxiously at the port.
Ten Danish tourists who had gone missing were located by the Coast Guard during a search and rescue operation.
The affected areas have been left in the dark due to power cuts after the power lines were damaged. The national highway connecting Attica to the Peloponnese Peninsula and train services have been suspended to prevent motorists getting trapped in the flames that were rapidly changing direction when fanned by strong winds.
— Petros Van Ripper (@PetrosVanRipper) July 24, 2018
At least 100 houses and 200 cars have been damaged by the fires which started at the Penteli Mountain and stretched for nearly 5 kilometers, according to the Mayor of Rafina-Pikermi, Vangelis Bournous.
“The situation is very difficult,” Andreas Vassilopoulos, a member of the municipal council of Rafina-Pikermi, told Xinhua. “It is most likely one of the most destructive fires [affecting] this area.”
A large number of children had been in the area, attending summer camps. “We are cooperating with the Coast Guard to see how we can transfer the children in summer camps to safety. It can be done only by vessels,” Vassilopoulos said before over 600 children were evacuated.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged for calmness and unity to face the “difficult moments for Greece” after a meeting with his ministers and emergency services officials.
He thanked the nearly 600 firemen battling against the flames and implied the nightmare was caused by arsonists, as fires had broken out in various areas within hours.
— Kamil Onoszko ?? ? (@Onosz) July 23, 2018
The Civil Aviation Authority said though flights at the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens were not disrupted by the thick smoke from the fires, a few pilots opted to divert flights to other Greek airports due to the strong winds.
The wildfires revived the pain Greece had suffered in the summer of 2007 when more than 80 people lost their lives in dozens of blazes across the country.