Greece wildfires: Seven hundred people rescued by boat

Greece wildfires: Seven hundred people rescued by boat

As the search for missing persons continues, a website has been set up to help relatives trace their loved ones.

Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross, told Skai TV they had tried to find an escape route "but unfortunately these people and their kids didn't make it in time".

Authorities said they would use an unmanned drone from the United States to monitor and track any suspicious activity. More than 700 people were evacuated by sea throughout the night, said Merchant Marine deputy minister Nektarios Santorinios, whose ministry is in charge of the coast guard. Dozens of people died during an especially fiery summer in 2007.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared three days of national mourning.

Fire Service spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said Greece had called on the European Union for assistance with aerial and ground support in helping battle the flames.

"Fifteen fires had started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens", said government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos. Of the 156 people injured, 11 were in intensive care, they added.

Flames swept through Mati, 25 miles from Athens, leaving scores of people dead, more than a thousand homes destroyed and hundreds of cars ruined. "I feel lucky to be alive".

The village is located in the Rafina region which is popular with local tourists, especially pensioners and children attending holiday camps, Reuters news agency notes.

A Polish woman and her son were reportedly among 10 people who drowned when a boat capsized during an evacuation. Greece said the Republic of Cyprus offered to send firefighters, and Spain offered to send water-dropping aircraft.

"We are dealing with something completely asymmetric", Mr Tsipras said. The planes can carry 5.5 tons of water and are piloted by memebers of the country's airforce.

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With a cloud of black and orange smoke having descended across the city, transport services have been disrupted, the main Athens to Corinth motorway shut and train services cancelled.

Rescuers said they found 26 bodies "huddled together" at a seaside resort in Mati.

Those who managed to escape have revealed horrifying scenes as they packed the village beaches waiting to be rescued overnight. But Monday's blazes near Athens spread so quickly, they seemed to catch everyone off guard.

Thick smoke reduced visibility on the highway to mere metres. The flames had not reached Athens nor were they threatening any of the famous ancient Greek ruins surrounding the area, officials said Tuesday.

Others were overtaken by the flames in their homes, on foot or in their cars.

Hours after the blaze began, flecks of ash swirled down onto central Athens.

In the late afternoon, a large fire had also broken out north and east of Athens.

Nine coastal patrol boats, two military vessels and "dozens of private boats" assisted by army helicopters were mobilized to help those stuck in the harbour in Rafina, one of the worst affected areas close to Mati.

There was no official figures on how many people were evacuated overall.

Rafina's mayor said he believed about 100 houses in that area had burned.

His government has asked other European countries for helicopters and additional firefighters to help tackle the fires.

Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summers, and temperatures recently hit highs up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

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