Ferocious wildfires in Greece that killed dozens of people and drove hundreds into the ocean for protection are being called a “biblical disaster.”
Driven by winds of up to 65 mph and temperatures of 104 degrees, the forest fires are being called a “national tragedy” and deemed by Interior Minister Panos Skourletis a “biblical disaster.”
Rescue workers continued to hunt for those who might have escaped, but at least 74 were confirmed dead.
Among the victims was a 6-month-old infant who died of smoke inhalation.
The fires swooped down on resorts near Rafina early Tuesday, coming on the town from all directions, leaving only the sea as a possible escape route. Hundreds were rescued by boats, but many were not, including a group of 26 victims found huddled together not far from the sea.
Red Cross spokesman Nikos Economopoulos told Skai TV: “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.”
AP reported there are wildfires each summer in Greece, but the conflagration that hit Tuesday was the deadliest in decades.
The coast guard was patrolling the shoreline to rescue those fleeing.
The report said hundreds were being treated for injuries.
“Although the fires had largely abated by Tuesday afternoon, they were far from out. Firefighters, aided by water-dropping aircraft from the sky, were tackling the remaining areas in the two main blazes near the capital: one northeast of Athens near Rafina, where most of the casualties appeared to have occurred,” the report said.
A second fire, about 30 miles west, continued to flare, the report said.
“It happened very fast. The fire was in the distance, then sparks from the fire reached us. Then the fire was all around us,” Nikos Stavrinidis told AP.
He, his wife and some friends swam into the sea, and two didn’t survive.
“It is terrible to see the person next to you drowning and not being able to help him,” he told AP.
Some who tried to drive to safety very nearly were caught.
“The police tried to direct us away from the fire, but we couldn’t escape it,” Aleka Papariga told AP. “We got stuck in traffic and the flames were on top of us. We managed to find a small gap and we made it out.”
The London Telegraph reported authorities were requesting help from the U.S., asking for drones that could observe and “detect” any suspicious activity.
Ambulance Service deputy director Miltiadis Mylonas warned that the death toll likely would rise as more thorough searches of gutted homes, cars and buildings continued.
“It took people by surprise and the events happened very fast,” he said.
The London Sun reported victims were found not only on land, but also in the sea.
Officials confirmed that more than 300 vehicles were destroyed by the flames, and the number of buildings was higher.
One woman told Greece’s Skai TV: “Mati doesn’t even exist as a settlement anymore. I saw corpses, burned-out cars. I feel lucky to be alive.”
A state of emergency was declared by the government, as local officials estimated 1,000 homes had been destroyed.
The London Daily Mail said authorities suspected there were 15 fires that started at the same time in several locations, “possibly by criminals intending to ransack homes once they were abandoned.”
Images of the aftermath showed total incineration of entire sections of villages.
“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.