Death toll rises to 74 as Red Cross official says 26 people died as they huddled together on beach in Mati
The worst wildfire to hit Greece in over a decade tore through a small resort town near Athens on Monday afternoon, killing at least 74 people, injuring almost 200 and forcing hundreds more to rush on to beaches and into the sea as the blaze devoured houses and cars.
Huge, fast-moving flames trapped families with children as they tried to flee from Mati, 18 miles (29km) east of the Greek capital. Among the dead were 26 people whose bodies were found huddled tightly together close to the beach, a Red Cross official said on Tuesday morning.
It was the countrys deadliest fire since blazes raged across the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens of people.
The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said a state of emergency had been declared in the Attica region, which includes Athens, and ordered three days of national mourning.
Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy, he said, adding: We mustnt let mourning overwhelm us, because these hours are hours of battle, unity, courage and above all solidarity.
As Greece tried to come to terms with what one civil protection agency official described as a national tragedy, the country activated an EU agreement to request help from fellow member states.
A military transport plane with 60 firefighters on board flew out of Cyprus, Spain dispatched two water-dropping planes and other countries, including Turkey, Israel and Italy, offered to send planes and helicopters.
Europe will stand by our Greek friends in these difficult times, tweeted Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. Help is on its way from several EU countries.
Details of the fates of some of those who had perished emerged as Tuesday wore on.
The 26 who died close to the beach had tried to find an escape route but didnt make it in time, Nikos Economopoulos, the head of Greeces Red Cross, told the countrys Skai TV. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced.
A fire brigade spokesman said at least 74 people had died. The toll was expected to rise as rescue crews searched through the charred remains of houses.
The government said at least 172 people were hurt, including 16 children, and 11 adults were in a serious condition. The Greek coastguard said the bodies of four people were retrieved from the sea off Mati.
But there were also stories of remarkable rescues: coastguards and others saved 696 people who had fled to beaches, while boats pulled another 19 people alive from the sea.
The town they had left behind had been gutted. Many hours after the blaze broke out, the strong smell of charred buildings and trees lingered in the air. White smoke rose from smouldering fires.
Mati doesnt even exist as a settlement any more, one woman told Skai TV. I saw corpses, burnt-out cars. I feel lucky to be alive.
Mati is in the Rafina region, which is popular with local tourists, particularly older people and children at holiday camps.
I personally saw at least 100 homes in flames, said Evangelos Bournous, the mayor of the Rafina-Pikermi area. I saw it with my eyes, it is a total catastrophe.
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