More than 70 killed in wildfires near Athens

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A woman reacts as she tries to find her dog, following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece July 24, 2018. (REUTERS/Costas Baltas /TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Greece declares three days of national mourning after wildfires near Athens killed over six-dozen and injured many more. CGTN’s Filio Kontrafouri filed this report from the village of Mati, the area hardest by the deadly blaze.

Fire swept through Mati on Monday, and within a few hours hundreds of homes and cars were destroyed. Dozens of lives were lost. Clean-up crews and rescue teams got to work early Tuesday, searching for survivors. They found bodies instead.

“We found 12 dead at the beach, they were brought here by the winds. We called authorities, they took them away and we found one burned body between the burned cars. We’re searching inside the burned homes, anywhere where there could be people. May God help us with what has happened here,” Rescuer Gianna Kalderi said.

Survivors said the fire appeared to chase them. People abandoned their cars and fled the blaze. Hundreds of firefighters were battling the fire, but winds with speeds over 95 kilometers per hour kept whipping up the flames.

Everything happened within minutes. People stricken with panic started rushing towards the sea, many of them ending up in beaches. They then fell in the water, where they stayed for hours until they were rescued.

“I was holding my mom in my arms for four-and-a-half hours in the water. She doesn’t know how to swim and at times, because of the smoke, I couldn’t see her and she was in my arms. Let alone that we couldn’t breathe,” Wildfire Survivor Kleopatra Fitou said.

Not everyone was so lucky. Twenty-six adults and children were found dead, hugging each other in a yard, just meters from the sea. They were trapped. Others survived only because they could find a path to the water.

“It was a matter of seconds, to make a decision. I abandoned the car here (in the middle of the street), grabbed my three year-old daughter and went down towards the sea, following a path next to where the 26 bodies were found. And, we barely made it and jumped in the water,” Wildfire Survivor Evi Kavoura said.

Dozens of people remain missing while rescue crews continue to search the area door-to-door. Coast Guard vessels remain nearby, looking for people that may have drowned while awaiting rescue.

While the fire may be out, the search for answers to one of the biggest tragedies in Greece’s modern history is just beginning.