They had left their cars in panic and ran towards the sea. But they were trapped over a cliff as the flames reached the coast
Even the toughest broke down in tears when they heard what happened on the Silver Coast, near Mati.
Twenty-six people, adults and children, were found dead, hugging each other in a field.
They left their cars in panic and ran towards the sea. But they were trapped over a cliff.
Euronews reporter Michalis Arampatzoglou at the scene says, "The light of day revealed the size of the disaster. The flames reached the sea. 26 people were tragically killed on the field you see behind me. This coast is rocky and they didn’t manage to find the path that leads to the sea".
An eyewitness and survivor says, "When we realized there was no way out, we left our car in the middle of the road. I took my (3-year-old) child in my arms and started to run through a path towards the sea. We ended up on a path behind that house, went down to the beach and jumped into the sea. It was a matter of seconds, to make it in the sea on time. I am sure that there were people behind me, and I knew that they wouldn’t make it. It was mathematically certain. And they were indeed found. I don’t know exactly how they got trapped in the field, probably before they got to the path. Only now do I realize that this is where the 26 people were found".
The disaster on Monday night was just one of several catastrophes as at least 74 people were killed in Greece’s wildfires.
Search for survivors
The scale of the devastation in Mati, a coastal town east of Athens, became clearer on Tuesday. Scores of gutted cars lined the streets, melted by the intensity of the heat.
One survivor compared the ordeal to the destruction of the city of Pompeii, where thousands were killed when the Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted in 79 AD.
Residents wandered the streets, some searching for burned-out cars, others for pets. It was not clear how many people remained unaccounted for as boats combed beaches for survivors.
The fire service said that many in the area had been unable to escape the fast pace of the blaze even though they were just a few metres from the Aegean Sea or in their homes.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared on television to declare three days of national mourning.
“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” he said. “There are absolutely no words to describe how we feel right now.”
The fires are thought to be Greece’s deadliest, with the death toll higher than in 2007 when dozens were killed by fires which ravaged the southern Peloponnese peninsula over several days.
The fire in Mati was contained by Tuesday afternoon but the risk remained of it reigniting in parched scrubland.
Greece issued an urgent appeal for help on Monday night after fires broke out in several areas.
The EU’s response is being coordinated via its Civil Protection Mechanism, a voluntary scheme to aid with natural disasters set up in 2001. Several countries offered assistance, and the Commission said Cyprus, Spain and Bulgaria had responded with concrete assistance. Italy, Croatia and Portugal are also reported to have volunteered to help.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke to the Greek president and prime minister, while the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides headed to Athens on Tuesday to meet Greek civil protection authorities and coordinate EU assistance.
After wildfires swept across southern Europe last year from Portugal to Italy, killing some 200 people, the European Commission launched a proposal to create its own protection force to assist nation states and complement their aid efforts. The European Parliament and Council of Ministers have since approved the plan for an EU reserve of resources to respond to natural disasters, backing by funding for individual countries.