BIBLICAL DISASTER: Death toll soars in Greek fires
AT least 74 people have been killed, 1000 homes have been destroyed and more than 150 victims are injured after two devastating fires ravaged holiday resorts in Greece.
The Sun reports that the body of a six-month-old baby was pulled from the sea near the village of Mati, which is at the centre of the disaster, where 26 people were found dead in the garden of a villa, many of them families huddled tightly together hugging each other.
People have been told to leave their homes after high winds whipped up forest fires on either side of Athens, burning homes and turning the sky over the capital a hazy orange from the smoke.
Officials are using US military drones "to observe and detect any suspicious activity" after it emerged that 15 of the blazes broke out at the same time in different locations outside Athens.
This comes amid growing speculation that the infernos may be the result of arson, reports local news outlet Ekathimerini.
People taking refuge from fires along the beach in Argyris Akti, Nea Makri, Greece yesterday, July 23! Report: Kalogerikos Nikos / Forecast weather Greece pic.twitter.com/2tlnVG6wzD— severe-weather.EU (@severeweatherEU) July 24, 2018
One of the deadly fires started about 48 kilometres west of Athens in Kineta, while the other, which broke out Monday from as-yet-undetermined causes, is in Mati which is northeast of the capital near Rafina.
The fires spread rapidly into packed tourists areas in popular holiday seaside areas, trapped those who were in their cars or homes.
The mayor of Rafina, Vangelis Bournos told SKA 1000 homes had been destroyed by the ferocious blaze while later adding that he hopes the death toll would not reach "three digits".
Speaking with Sky News, Greece's interior minister Panos Skourletis described the fires as a "national tragedy" and a "biblical disaster with human losses."
Greek firefighters said the death toll was now at 74.
The mayor of Rafina, Evangelos Bournos added that 1000 homes had been destroyed by the ferocious blaze.
Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross, told Skai TV about the 26 bodies found in the garden of a villa in Mati.
He said: "They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn't make it in time."
The coastguard said the bodies of four people had been retrieved from the sea off Mati this morning.
One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation.
Police said they found two Danish tourists in a boat off the coast from Rafina.
Another eight people from the group were still missing.
One woman told Greece's Skai TV: "Mati doesn't even exist as a settlement anymore. I saw corpses, burnt-out cars. I feel lucky to be alive."
Some parts of village were still smouldering white smoke early on Tuesday and burnt-out cars were scattered outside gated compounds.
Fire department spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri added that 156 adults and 16 children have been hospitalised with injuries.
Eleven of the adults are in serious condition.
The government declared a state of emergency and asked other European countries for helicopters and additional firefighters to help tackle the fires.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia due to the scale of the emergency.
"We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it," he said.
He added: "Everyone should keep their temper and take care to protect the most precious good that is human life."
Residents in the worst-affected areas were forced into the sea to escape the flames.
Kostas Laganos, who lives in Mati, said: "Thankfully the sea was there and we went into the sea, because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water. It burned our backs and we dived into the water … I said my God, we must run to save ourselves."
"Everything happened in seconds," said local resident Andreaas Passios.
"I grabbed a beach towel. It saved my life. I soaked it, grabbed my wife and we ran to the sea."
Passios said he and his wife stayed by the sea for two hours.
He added: "It was unbelievable. Gas canisters were exploding, burning pine cones were flying everywhere.
Spyros Hadjiandreou arrived on the spot looking for missing loved ones.
He said: "My niece and cousin were staying here on holiday. I don't know if they made it out.
"I don't know if they are OK, I haven't heard from them."
Evangelos Bournous, mayor of the Rafina-Pikermi area, said: "I personally saw at least 100 homes in flames. I saw it with my eyes, it is a total catastrophe."
Authorities deployed firefighters and equipment from across Greece to deal with the blaze at Kineta, a small resort town about 56 kilometres west of Athens on a route used by tens of thousands of drivers daily to reach the Peloponnese peninsula.
"This is an extreme situation," said senior firefighter Achilleas Tzouvaras.
"People should leave, close up their homes and just leave. People cannot tolerate so much smoke for so many hours."
The main Athens to Corinth motorway, one of two road routes to the Peloponnese peninsula, was shut and train services were cancelled.
The second major fire broke out Monday afternoon in the Penteli area northeast of Athens.
Huge tragedy in Greece. At least 60 people dead. Estimating over 100 dead. More than 200 injured. We need your prayers my friends! Pray for us. Pray for the people that lost their lifes. Pray for the families that lost their loved ones.. pic.twitter.com/QpWZHahRq5— Anthony (@voanto) July 24, 2018
Local authorities said they were evacuating children's summer camps, while dozens of homes and cars were destroyed.
At least three aircraft and a helicopter were battling the flames, along with at least 50 firefighters.
This article originally appeared in The Sun and is republished here with permission