NOT fewer than 74 people have died in the worst wildfires to hit Greece in more than a decade, with some residents forced to flee into the sea to escape the advancing flames.
Residents told of horrifying scenes as flames engulfed a seaside village, where the only way out for some was to run for the water.
Boats were mobilized in a hurriedly-organized rescue operation as the flames took hold on Monday night. Reuters reported that 696 people were picked up from beaches and 19 from the sea. Rescuers also retrieved four bodies from the sea.
The Greek fire service confirmed that 25 people were found dead close to the seaside resort village of Mati as they tried to escape the fires.
At least 164 adults and 23 children have been injured in the blazes, which are burning in five main fronts in the Attica region, including one that is currently out of control near Mati. The area is popular with Greek tourists, in particular retirees and children who go to holiday camps there.
The fire service said many of those trying to escape were prevented from doing so by “increased wind intensity,” which helped fan the flames at a rapid pace.
People whose relatives are missing are still making calls to the fire service. In addition to about 500 firefighters battling the five major blazes, more than 100 members of the armed forces and fire brigade are searching for the missing, according to Greek National Fire Brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of mourning.
“There are no words to describe the feelings of all of us,” he said during a televised address Tuesday.
“The country is going through a tragedy,” Tsipras said, adding that the events were “unbearable for everyone.”