Athens, July 24 (IANS) At least 50 people have died and 156 have been injured in forest fires raging near Athens, the Greek Civil Protection Agency said on Tuesday.
Emergency services said that 11 of the injured were in a critical condition, while warning that the casualty toll was expected to rise as authorities continued to receive reports of missing people, Efe news reported.
Earlier on Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos had put the death toll at 20 and said most of the victims were trapped in the seaside resort of Mati, 40km from here.
They died either in their homes or their cars while trying to escape after the fires began on Monday. There were 16 children among the casualties, the BBC reported.
Hundreds of firefighters were battling the blazes as people left their homes behind near the capital. Authorities urged people in the path of the flames to get out while they can.
A spokesman for the EKAV emergency service told radio station 24/7 that the dead included a 15-year-old girl and at least 11 of the injured were listed in critical condition at hospitals in the Attica region.
Greece declared a state of emergency and appealed to its European Union partners for assistance in dealing with the fires, Efe news reported.
In eastern Attica, some people on a beach threatened by the flames dived into the water. The coast guards told EFE that while 15 people were rescued, eight Danish tourists were reported to be adrift on a boat.
A search and rescue operation is underway for them.
“We will do whatever is humanly possible to control it,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told reporters.
He cut short an official trip to Bosnia in order to help coordinate the response to the situation, which firefighters have described as “extremely difficult”.
Dramatic video posted on social media showed damaged buildings, orange smoke-filled skies, and people fleeing the fires by car.
Citing police, ERT television said that some 300 residents of several villages in east Attica were trapped in their homes by the fires.
Tsipras assured that “all emergency forces have been mobilised” and declared a state of emergency in the Attica region around Athens.
The government also asked other European countries for helicopters and additional firefighters to help tackle the fires, the BBC said.
Earlier on Monday, residents of a coastal region near Athens were told to abandon their homes as the uncontrolled fires spread. Hundreds of children were also evacuated from holiday camps.
Countries including Italy, Germany, Poland and France have all sent help in the form of additional planes, vehicles and firefighters.
But with temperatures set to soar again, they are in a race against time to get the fires under control.