National tragedy: At least 49 dead in Attica fires

24 July 2018
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Greek authorities have said that at least 49 people have died and more than 156 others have been injured as forest fires rage near the capital Athens.

Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said earlier in a televised statement that the death toll exceeded 20 while more than 88 adults and 16 children were injured, numbers that have subsequently increased, with some estimates putting the death toll in the hundreds.

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

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia on Monday and returned to Athens to preside over an emergency response meeting with fire chiefs and government officials.
“We are dealing with something completely asymmetric,” Mr Tsipras said.

The coast guard said four more bodies have been found at sea near the wildfires raging near Greece’s capital, raising the death toll to at least 24.

They said the latest victims counted were three women and a child whose bodies were found in the sea.

Two major forest fires are burning out of control on either side of Greece’s capital, razing houses and prompting residents to flee as the sky over Athens turned a hazy orange from the smoke.

The fire in Mati village, 29 kilometres east of Athens, was by far the country’s worst since blazes devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens.

The Government sought international assistance to cope with the fires, which have destroyed dozens of homes, burned cars and prompted residents and tourists to flee to beaches east of Athens for dramatic rescues by boats.

Greece said Cyprus offered to send firefighters and Spain has offered water-dropping aircraft.

Winds reached 80 kilometres per hour as authorities deployed the country’s entire fleet of water-dropping planes and helicopters to give tourists time to escape.

Military drones remained in the air in the high winds to help officials direct more than 600 firefighters below.

A senior fire chief went on state TV to appeal to people to leave the area of Kineta west of Athens after some tried to stay on their properties.

The main Athens-Corinth motorway, one of two road routes to the Peloponnese peninsula, was shut and train services were cancelled.

“We were unlucky. The wind changed and it came at us with such force that it razed the coastal area in minutes,” said Evangelos Bournous, mayor of the port town of Rafina, a sleepy mainland port that serves Greek holiday islands.

The dock area became a makeshift hospital as paramedics checked survivors when they came off coast guard vessels and private boats.

A witness told Reuters they saw at least four people dead on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to the safe haven of a nearby beach.

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