By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
At least 74 people are known dead in the worst wildfires to hit Greece in more than a decade. Residents in the Greek seaside resort town of Mati, near Athens, were forced to flee into the sea to escape the advancing flames, Reuters reported Tuesday.
More than 150 people have been injured in the blazes. The Greek wildfires are burning in three main fronts in the Attica region, including the fire at Mati, CNN News said.
High Winds Prevent Many Residents from Escaping Greek Wildfires’ Flames
“The fire service said many of those trying to escape were prevented from doing so by increased wind intensity, which helped fan the flames at a rapid pace,” CNN added.
“Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach,” Reuters said.
Boats were mobilized in a hurriedly organized rescue operation as the flames took hold and began to spread on Monday night.
Almost 700 Rescued from Beaches and 19 from the Aegean Sea
News reports said 696 people were picked up from beaches and 19 were rescued from the Aegean Sea. Rescuers also retrieved six bodies from the sea, the Greek Coast Guard reported.
“Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time, even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes,” fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri told the media.
“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 Greece’s Skai TV.
Coast Guard vessels continued to search beaches on Tuesday for any remaining survivors, but just how many people remain unaccounted for could not be determined.
“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on television. He declared three days of national mourning.
According to Reuters, “The inferno was by far Greece’s worst since fires devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007.”