At least 50 people died and more than 150 were injured as two forest fires devastated the Greek seaside village of Mati on Monday. The fires were fanned by strong winds towards the area frequented by tourists. The resort town is around 40 km from the capital of Athens. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared a state of emergency in Attica and three days of national mourning.
Many victims died either in their homes or their cars, BBC reported, quoting government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.
While the official toll was 24, Red Cross officials said they had found 26 more bodies at a villa in Mati, AFP reported on Tuesday.
A search and rescue operation is underway for 10 tourists who fled one of the fires in a boat, BBC quoted officials as saying. “We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it [fires],” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.
Greece has issued an appeal for help to tackle the fires, saying that it needed air and land assets from its European Union partners. Cyprus and Spain offered assistance, while Italy, Germany, Poland and France have sent help in the form of transport and firefighters, BBC reported.
Authorities urged people in Mati to abandon their homes on Monday after high winds caused the fire to spread rapidly, destroying properties and closing the main highway to Corinth city, reported The Guardian.
The fire in Mati village is by far the country’s worst since blazes devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing at least 63 people. Monday’s fire was one of several that broke out in the country amid a sweltering heat wave, with temperatures rising above 40 degrees Celsius.
“Mati doesn’t even exist as a settlement anymore,” a woman told Greece’s Skai TV, according to Reuters. “I saw corpses, burned-out cars. I feel lucky to be alive.”
Nine coastal patrol boats, two military vessels and dozens of private boats, assisted by Army helicopters, were mobilised to help those stuck in nearby Rafina harbour due to the fire, reported The Guardian. Police said they found two Danish tourists in a boat off the coast from Rafina. Another eight people from the group were still missing.