Greece Declares Three Days Of Mourning After Least 60 People Die In Wildfires

Greece has declared three days of mourning after at least 60 people were killed in wildfires that ravaged a beach side town near Athens.

MATI, Greece (Reuters) - Wildfires sweeping through a Greek resort town killed at least 60 people, officials said, including families with children found clasped in a last embrace as they tried to flee the flames.

Greece on Tuesday declared three days of mourning over wildfires that killed at least 60 people in towns near Athens.

“The country is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a televised address. “Today, Greece is mourning and we are declaring three days of national mourning in the memory of those who perished,” he said.

Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together in a field just 30 meters from the sea near Mati in eastern Greece.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

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The fire was by far Greece’s worst since flames devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. It broke out in Mati late Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday morning.

Coastguard vessels were combing beaches to find any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, a government spokesman said.

A Reuters photographer saw at least four dead on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a beach and heard reports of several more casualties.

“Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes,” fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said.

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Mati is in the eastern Rafina region, a popular spot for Greek holiday-makers, particularly pensioners and children at camps, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital.

The 26 deaths came on top of the more than 20 reported by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos earlier on Tuesday.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Of the 156 people injured, 11 were in intensive care, they added.

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The coastguard said four more bodies were retrieved from the sea. In total, coastguard and other vessels rescued 696 people who had fled to beaches. Boats plucked another 19 people alive from the water.

Greece’s fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire at Mati had slowed on Tuesday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control. The service urged residents to report missing relatives and friends.