80 dead in the worst forest fires in Greece in over a decade
At least 80 people, among them many children, have died in the massive fire disaster that affected Greece. The new death rate exceeds that of 2007, when 67 people died in forest fires around the island of Evia. About 40 people are now still missing, according to the rescue service.
The authorities are investigating whether the fires may be started intentionally.
After a person died from hospital injuries, the number of deaths in the fires has risen to 80. The increased death toll means that it is one of the deadliest forest fires in Greece's history.
The rescue service continues its search work and receives further calls from people whose relatives are missing.
Vehicle wrecks and fire-damaged buildings are searched.
In total, several hundred buildings, especially in the city of Mati, have been ravaged by the fires. The rescue service estimates the number of missing to about 40 people. It is unclear if some of the missing are also found among those found to be dead.
Heavy criticism towards the Greek government
The government is facing heavy criticism of its handling of the rescue operation. Many residents claim that no emergency plan was put into effect when the fires reached the seaside holiday resorts.
The fire development is troubling
There are concerns that the fires may have been started by criminals who were trying to plunder abandoned homes.
"I am very concerned that the all the fires started at the same time," said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
All rescue resources have been mobilized to combat the fire, according to the prime minister, who announced three days of land care.
Interior Minister Panos Skourletis says that the first priority is to extinguish a fire that ravages in Kineta, five miles from Athens.
Many in the affected areas a few miles east of Athens have been rescued by boats from beaches where they fled the flames. Others have been found dead in their homes or in their cars, and 26 dead have been found in a restaurant by the sea.
"Mati does not exist"
Winds of around 28 meters per second (77mph) in the town of Mati caused the fire to spread rapidly.
- Mati no longer exists, notes the mayor of the nearby city of Rafinas, Evangelos Bournous.
He says 82 people were hospitalized during Tuesday night, and more than 1,000 buildings and 300 cars were damaged in the fire.
Several countries send assistance in order for Greece to control the fires.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker twists that the EU "will not hold back in terms of efforts to help Greece and the Greek people."
Meanwhile, emergency services reported being overrun with calls about missing people. Although no official number has been released, Ilias Psinakis, the mayor of Marathon, said there was no doubt the number of victims would rise.
“Unfortunately, the number is increasing,” he told Ant1 TV. “I think they found another five today – 40 people were missing by 5 o’clock this morning when I left the town hall.”
At least two-thirds of the houses in the Marathon district, which includes Mati, the coastal resort worst affected by the fires, had been burned, he said.
“Of the 1,900 houses in Mati and the 1,100 in Neo Voutzas, two-thirds must have burned,” Psinakis said. “They are houses that are no longer inhabitable.”
Constantine Michalos, who heads the Athens chamber of commerce and industry, said the fires were spread by strong of up to 77mph that were changing direction from one minute to the next.
The changing winds made rescue operations particularly difficult.
It is Greece’s worst natural disaster since wildfires destroyed large tracts of the western Peloponnese in 2007.
Sixty-three people died in the fires 11 years ago, but those fires affected a much larger geographical area.
Three days of national mourning
The prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has declared three days of national mourning. Rescue efforts are expected to continue for several days, with four firefighting planes from Italy and 64 firefighters from Cyprus joining the operation.