MATI (Greece) • A wildfire sweeping through a Greek resort town killed at least 74 people, officials said, including families with children found clasped in a last embrace as they tried to flee the flames.
The inferno was by far Greece's worst since fires devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. It broke out in Mati late on Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas yesterday.
"Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy," Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he appeared on television to declare three days of national mourning.
Emergency crews found a group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach.
"Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced," Mr Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross, told Skai TV.
Working through the night, coast guard vessels and other boats rescued almost 700 people who had managed to get to the shoreline and pulled another 19 survivors and six dead bodies from the sea.
A Reuters photographer saw at least four dead on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a beach.
"Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few metres from the sea or in their homes," said fire brigade spokesman Stavroula Maliri.
In total, at least 74 people had been killed and the death toll was expected to rise, a fire brigade spokesman said.
It was unclear how many people remained unaccounted for as the coast guard combed beaches to find any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, said a government spokesman.
One of the youngest victims was believed to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. At least 187 people were injured, among them 23 children.
Mati, 29km east of the capital, is a popular spot for Greek holiday-makers, particularly pensioners and children at camps.
The fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire in Mati had slowed yesterday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control.
Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires that raged out of control in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links. A hillside of homes was gutted by flames east of Athens. A mayor said he saw at least 100 homes and 200 vehicles burning.
Wildfires are common in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create the current tinderbox conditions. It was not immediately clear what ignited the fires.