The number of deaths from the worst forest fires in Greece for more than a decade has risen to 80 as rescue workers intensified efforts to locate those who had gone missing.
Officials said crews were going from house to house and car to car in seaside communities ravaged by the wildfires near Athens on Wednesday.
The death of an 84-year-old, who had been one of an estimated 187 people injured, pushed the count up from 79 officially pronounced dead by the fire service.
At least nine people were in intensive care and 11 children had been taken to hospital, authorities said.
Meanwhile, emergency services reported being inundated with calls about missing people. Although no official number has been released, Ilias Psinakis, the mayor of Marathon, said there was no doubt the number of victims would rise.
“Unfortunately, the number is increasing,” he told Ant1 TV. “I think they found another five today – 40 people [in all] were missing by 5 o’clock this morning when I left the town hall.”
At least two-thirds of the houses in the Marathon district, which includes Mati, the coastal resort worst affected by the fires, had been burned, he said. “Of the 1,900 houses in Mati and the 1,100 in Neo Voutzas, two-thirds must have burned,” Psinakis said. “They are houses that are no longer inhabitable.”
An Irish national who was on honeymoon in Greece has been named as one of the missing. Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp became separated from his wife, Zoe Holohan, as they tried to escape the fires.
The couple were travelling in a vehicle when they were forced to flee. Holohan was able to reach to a nearby beach and was admitted to hospital with burns to her head and hands on Tuesday night.
Constantine Michalos, who heads the Athens chamber of commerce and industry, said the dead fires were spread by gale-force winds of up to 77mph and were “changing direction on a minute-by-minute basis”, making rescue operations particularly difficult.
Speaking to RTÉ Radio after visiting Mati, he said: “The area can only be compared to Syria on a day of heavy bombardment.”
It is Greece’s worst natural disaster since wildfires destroyed large tracts of the western Peloponnese in 2007. Sixty-three people died in the blazes 11 years ago, which affected a much larger geographical area.
A doctor who lives in Mati said on ERT TV: “How can it be that in such a small town so many people perish? Something has gone very wrong.”
The prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has declared three days of national mourning. Rescue efforts are expected to continue for several days, with four firefighting planes from Italy and 64 firefighters from Cyprus joining the operation.
The leftist-led government announced that €20m (£18m) in emergency funding would be distributed to assist the stricken areas. On Wednesday the Greek parliament said a further €10m would be given to people who had lost homes and loved ones.
Nikos Voutsis, the house speaker, said: “This is part of the self-evident support and solidarity for the hundreds of fellow citizens who have been affected by this unspeakable disaster.”
The government is facing mounting criticism of its handling of the rescue operation, with residents claiming no emergency plan was put into effect when the fires tore through seaside resorts. The mayor of Rafina, Vangelis Bournous, said that despite the scale of the fires there had been no order for the afflicted areas to be evacuated.
Dimitris Koutsoumpas, the leader of the Communist party, said: “The national mourning that the government has declared, and all the big words that we are hearing, cannot be an alibi to forget … or cover up the huge responsibility of governments, including this government, over time.”
Culled from The Guardian UK