Wildfire kills at least 50 near Athens - UPDATED-1

Wildfire kills at least 50 near Athens - <span style="color: red;">UPDATED-1
# 24 July 2018 09:23 (UTC +04:00)

A wildfire killed at least 50 people and injured more than 150 as it swept through a small resort town near Athens, with huge flames trapping families with children as they fled.

The fire which hit Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, late Monday afternoon was by far the country’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens.

People scrambled to the sea as the blaze closed in close to the shore. Hundreds were rescued by passing boats but others found their way blocked by smoke and flames.

“I was briefed by a rescuer that he saw the shocking picture of 26 people tightly huddled in a field some 30 metres from the beach,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time,” he said. A Reuters witness also saw several bodies in the area.

Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holidaymakers, particularly pensioners and children at camps.

The 26 deaths came on top of more than 20 casualties reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday. He said more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation.

A Reuters witness earlier saw at least four dead on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a nearby beach.

The coastguard later said the bodies of four more people were retrieved from the sea. In total, coastguard and other vessels rescued 696 people who had fled to beaches. Boats plucked another 19 people from the sea.

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04:26

The Greek government announced early Tuesday that more than 20 people had been killed in relation to wildfires that broke out near the capital, Athens, on Monday, APA reports quoting sputniknews.

Initially, two large forest fires broke out on either side of the capital early Monday, destroying homes and sending people fleeing toward the sea, where they were evacuated by Greek Coast Guard boats. Attica, the larger region surrounding Athens, declared a state of emergency in both its eastern and western portions.

Greece called on the European Union for assistance, and said that Cyprus had offered firefighters to help them battle the blazes and Spain offered to contribute aircraft capable of dropping water on the flames.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut his visit to Bosnia short to return to Athens, saying the government is particularly concerned by the fires occuring simultaneously. "We are doing everything humanly possible to try and tackle these fires," he said. Upon his return, he said more than 600 firefighters and 300 vehicles were working to extinguish them.

Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, a government spokesperson, said early Tuesday, Greek time, that some 69 people had been hospitalized and many are in critical condition.

It's unclear how many people have been forced to evacuate due to the fires. Vangelis Bournous, mayor of Rafina, a town about a six-hour drive from Athens, said he believed some 100 homes had been burned.

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01:26

Uncontrolled wildfires have forced hundreds of Greek residents to abandon their homes in two major blazes on the east and west coasts of the Attica region on Monday, APA reports quoting Anadolu Agency.

The coastal region on the western side of Attica, Kineta -- around 54 kilometers (34 miles) west of Athens -- has been evacuated, as fires broke out on Monday afternoon in the forest in the Geraneia Mountains that surround the area.

Several houses surrendered to the flames, forcing residents to leave their property behind, while others tried to save what they could using garden hoses.

A firefighting operation is underway with 70 fire fighters and 30 engines striving to contain the flames, as the area is surrounded by pines.

The other second big fire on the northeast side of Attica has forced local authorities to evacuate summer camps, while hundreds more people have left their homes.

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