Greece.- Rescue crews were searching Wednesday through charred homes and cars for those still missing after the deadliest wildfires to hit Greece in decades decimated seaside areas near Athens, killing at least 79 people and sending thousands fleeing.
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. Survivors described dramatic scenes of people fleeing to beaches and being forced to swim out to sea despite gale-force winds and high waves to escape choking smoke and flaming pine cones raining down into the water. Fire service spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said the death toll had increased by five to 79.
There were The speed with which the blaze northeast of Athens spread took many by surprise, and is believed to have contributed to the high death toll. “We couldn’t see any fire. The fire came suddenly. There was so much wind, we didn’t realize how it happened,” said Anna Kiriazova, 56, who survived with her husband by shutting themselves in their house instead of trying to flee through the flames. Kiriazova said they used a garden hose to douse their house in the Mati area near Rafina with water, and credited the fact that their window frames were metal instead of wood for their home being spared.
“We shut ourselves in the house, we closed the shutters, we had towels over our faces,” she told The Associated Press. “The inferno lasted about an hour. I have no words to describe what we lived through.”
Her 65-year-old husband, Theodoros Christopoulos, said the couple decided to take shelter indoors because the narrow roads were jammed. “There was a great panic because the whole street was blocked by cars,” Christopoulos said. “Shouting, hysteria, they could see the fire was coming with the wind. It already smelled a lot, the sky was black overhead and in no time at all the fire was here.”
Hundreds of others abandoned cars and fled to nearby beaches, from where they were evacuated hours later by coast guard and private boats. Dozens swam out to sea despite rough weather to escape the intense heat and choking smoke. One woman told state television she fled into the sea with her daughter and grandchildren, aged 13 and 15, and they were forced to swim out beyond the shallows along with many others who had sought shelter on the beach. fears it would increase further as rescue crews gradually went through the hundreds of burnt homes, while others searched the coastline and the sea.
More than 280 firefighters were still in the area to the northeast of Athens in the wider Rafina area, dousing the remaining flames to prevent flare-ups. A further 200 firefighters backed up by a waterdropping helicopter were tackling the second forest fire west of the capital, near Agioi Theodori, where local authorities pre-emptively evacuated three communities, a children’s summer camp and three monasteries overnight, according to the fire department.
Flags across Greece flew at halfstaff after the prime minister declared three days of national mourning. The two fires on either side of the Greek capital started Monday within hours of each other, fanned by gale-force winds that hampered firefighting efforts.