Wildfires Kill Dozens in Greece, Athens Calls for EU Help
At least 60 people have been killed and over 100 have been injured in wildfire raging near Athens leading Greece to call upon the rest of the EU for help tackling them.
The death toll from the wildfires, which broke out on Monday on the Attica Peninsula, surpassed 60 on Tuesday, Greek TV channel Skai reported, as cited by international media.
Evangelos Bournous, Mayor of the port town of Rafina, was quoted as saying he expected the death toll to rise.
“We were unlucky. The wind changed and it came at us with such force that it razed the coastal area in minutes,” Bournous said.
Greece’s authorities appealed to the EU for help, and Spain and Cyprus were the first to respond.
Earlier, Greek fire fighters discovered 26 charred bodies in the courtyard of a villa at the seaside resort of Mati, east of Athens.
“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, the head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV, as cited by Kathimerini and Reuters.
According to government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, more than 88 adults and 16 children have been injured in the Attica wildfires so far.
The Greek authorities evacuated hundreds of people by sea vessels, while using all available water-dropping aircraft to provide those threatened enough time to evacuate.
Almost 700 people who had managed to escape to the coast were saved by sea vessels, the Greek coastguard announced, adding that 19 were rescued from the sea. Six dead bodies were also recovered from the waters of the Aegean.
“It took people by surprise and the events happened very fast. Also, the fires broke out on many fronts, so all these factors made the situation extremely difficult,” said Greece’s Ambulance Service deputy director Miltiadis Mylonas.
“The task we face now is organizing the identification of victims by members of their families,” he added.
Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the natural calamity on the Attica Peninsula.
“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Tsipras said in a televised address, declaring three days of national mourning.
Wildfires are not an uncommon phenomenon in the country because of the hot and dry summers with temperatures around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
Even though the Greek capital Athens saw rain on Monday, the showers missed the raging wildfires at Rafina, 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the east, and at Kineta, 55 kilometers (35 miles) to the west. Wednesday’s forecast is for torrential rain across Southern Greece.
The wildfires on the Attica Peninsula are the deadliest Greece has seen since 2007 when over 60 people were killed in the southern part of Peloponnese.
(Banner image: TV grab from Skai)