Greece declares state of emergency as wildfires kill dozens

Residents and tourists forced to flee into sea as blazes rage through resorts near Athens

TOPSHOT - EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / People watch a wildfire in the town of Rafina, near Athens, on July 23, 2018. - At least 20 people have died and more have been injured as wild fires
People watch flames sweep through the port town of Rafina, near Athens
(Image credit: This content is subject to copyright.)

Wildfires have raged through holiday resorts around the Greek capital of Athens, killing at least 74 people and injuring hundreds more.

A state of emergency has been declared as firefighters battle the worst blazes to hit the country in more than a decade. Hundreds of local families and tourists have fled to smoke-covered beaches, to be evacuated on navy vessels, yachts and fishing boats, reports the Daily Mirror.

“This is an extreme situation,” said one senior firefighter. “People should leave, close up their homes and just leave.”

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Interior Minister Panos Skourletis, describing the inferno as a “national tragedy” and a “biblical disaster with human losses”.

A Red Cross official said this morning that 26 bodies had been discovered at the seaside resort of Mati, 18 miles east of Athens, adding to 24 declared dead by authorities overnight. Firefighters raised the death toll to 74 this afternoon.

The resort of Mati “is popular with local tourists, especially pensioners and children attending holiday camps”, says the BBC.

The flames are being fanned by high winds, which reached nearly 50mph as authorities “deployed the country’s entire fleet of water-dropping planes and helicopters to give vacationers time to escape”, reports the The Independent. “Military drones remained in the air in the high winds to help officials direct more than 600 firefighters on the ground,” the newspaper adds.

Evangelos Bournous, mayor of the port town of Rafina, said that he had seen “at least 100 homes in flames”, adding: “I saw it with my eyes - it is a real total catastrophe.

”We were unlucky. The wind changed and it came at us with such force that it razed the coastal area in minutes.”

A makeshift hospital has been set up at the Rafina dock, where paramedics are treating survivors from the local area and those brought in on boats.

Ambulance Service deputy director Miltiadis Mylonas said: “The events happened very fast. Also, the fires broke out on many fronts, so all these factors made the situation extremely difficult.

“The task we face now is organising the identification of victims by members of their families.”

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