Wildfires kill at least 74 in Greece’s ‘Pompeii’

Article By: Vassilis Triandafyllou, Alkis Konstantinidis

MATI, Greece (Reuters) – Greece’s prime minister told of the “unspeakable tragedy” the country faced after at least 74 people were killed by wildfires that swept through a resort, trapping people in cars and on the edge of cliffs as others were forced to jump off to survive. The scale of Monday night’s devastation in Mati became apparent at first light on Tuesday.

Scores of gutted cars lined streets in the coastal town, east of Athens, melted by the intensity of the heat. Bodies lay on roadsides, and in one area, a group of 26 people were found dead – some locked in an embrace as the flames closed in. The group, which included children, were found near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach. They had ended up there after apparently searching for an escape route.

“Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” the head of Greece’s Red Cross, Nikos Economopoulos, told Skai TV.

The lucky ones were able to leap off the cliffs to survive, or rush into the sea from the beach.

“We went into the sea because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water. It burned our backs and we dived into the water,” said Kostas Laganos, a middle-aged survivor.

He compared the ordeal to the destruction of the city of Pompeii, where thousands were incinerated by the volcano of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. “I said ‘my God, we must run to save ourselves and nothing else’.”

At least 74 people were killed, a fire brigade spokeswoman said, and the death toll was expected to rise. Poland said two of its citizens, a mother and her son, were among the victims. It was not clear how many people remained unaccounted for as boats combed beaches for any remaining survivors.

Residents, their faces blackened by smoke, wandered the streets, some searching for their burned-out cars, others for their pets. The eerie silence was punctured by fire-fighting helicopters and the murmur of rescue crews. There were yellow body bags in several areas.

Many in the area had been unable to escape the fast pace of the blaze even though they were a few meters from the Aegean Sea or in their homes, the fire service said.

A Reuters photographer saw at least four dead people on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a beach. One of the youngest victims was believed to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation. At least 187 people were injured, officials said, among those 23 children.

“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he appeared on television to declare three days of national mourning. “Greece is living one of its most difficult moments,” he said. “There are absolutely no words to describe how we feel right now.”

Flags atop the ancient Acropolis hill and parliament flew at half mast.

The inferno was thought to be Greece’s deadliest, with the death toll higher than fires which ravaged the southern Peloponnese peninsula over several days in August 2007, killing dozens. By Tuesday afternoon, the Mati fire was contained, but the risk remained of it reigniting in scrubland parched by Greece’s searing summer heat.

View full article at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-greece-wildfire/greek-wildfire-rages-near-athens-forcing-residents-from-homes-idUSKBN1KD1F9

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