Wildfires toll rises to 79, search on for survivors

Athens: At least 79 people died in huge wildfires around Athens, Greek authorities said on Wednesday, as rescuers scoured scorched homes and burned-out cars for survivors of one of the deadliest fire outbreaks in Europe’s modern history.
Scores of locals and holidaymakers fled to the sea to try to escape the flames as they tore through towns near Athens stoked by 100-kilometre-per-hour wind gusts, devouring woodland and hundreds of buildings.
Greek media have described the disaster as a “national tragedy”, while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia and announced three days of national mourning.
A fire service official said that searches to find those missing in the fires would continue, although there was still no official word on the number of people unaccounted for.
Spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said authorities knew of “79 dead”, surpassing the 77 people killed in the previous deadliest fires in Greece, on the southern island of Evia in 2007. “We’ve received numerous calls reporting people missing,” Maliri said.
When the fires broke out on Monday evening, terrified residents and tourists were overtaken by the flames in homes, on foot or in their cars. AFP photographers saw the burnt bodies of people and dogs.
The charred bodies of 26 people, including small children, were discovered at a villa at the seaside resort of Mati, 40 kilometres northeast of Athens, rescuers said.
“Mati no longer exists,” said the mayor of nearby Rafina, Evangelos Bournous, adding that more than a thousand buildings and 300 cars had been damaged. Rescue teams on Wednesday were going house to house to search for survivors in Mati.
“That’s not always possible because some houses are at risk of collapse,” a civil defence worker said. — AFP