At Least 74 People Killed In Forest Fires Near Athens

At Least 74 People Killed In Forest Fires Near Athens

Raging wildfires killed 74 people in Greece, devouring homes and forests as terrified residents fled to the sea to escape the flames, authorities said yesterday, reports AFP.

There was no official indication as to how many people might be missing and some took to social media and Greek television stations with appeals for information on their loved ones.

Dozens of people died when forest fires ravaged southern Greece in 2007.

Fire service spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri announced Tuesday afternoon that the death toll had jumped from 50 to 74, with another 164 adults and 23 children injured by the fires.

Many people on the beaches were forced to swim out due to the ferocity of the fire, said Halil.

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told the BBC that illegal construction has contributed to one of the country's worst-ever wildfire disasters.

Working through the night, coastguard vessels and other boats rescued nearly 700 people who had managed to get to the shoreline and pulled another 19 survivors and six dead bodies from the sea, the coastguard said.

It was the deadliest fire season to hit Greece in more than a decade.

In a vitriolic post, Bishop Ambrosios of Kalavryta said it was the wrath of God because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is a stated atheist.

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Tsipras declared three days of national mourning. Twenty-six of the dead were believed to be groups of families or friends who were found huddled together, some of them hugging.

"People were running in the streets screaming that they were burning, no one could save them", one person said.

Strong winds of up to 50mph also meant that the fires were pushed through the land incredibly fast. "I've never seen anything like this before in my life".

"We ran to the sea. Yannis told us to get our stuff but we didn't even have time for that, the flames were already here". Numerous other evacuees joined him in the water, he said.

Government officials said they are providing help to a number of Irish people caught up in the wildfire. "As we went further, there was a lot of wind and a lot of currents and it started taking us away from the coast". We were not able to see where we were, where Marmari was, where Rafina was, where Mati was.

A spokesperson for British Airways said: "Following the tragic wildfires in Greece, we are offering a flexible rebooking policy for customers wanting to return home early".

France, Israel, Bulgaria and Turkey also offered assistance as messages of condolences poured in from around the world. Scenes of devastation and death were reported throughout the region.

The fire brigade confirmed an overall death toll of 49, with numerous dead believed to be young children.

"It's a hard night for Greece", Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said late Monday after cutting short a trip to Bosnia and returning to Athens.