July 25 (UPI) — Rescue crews searched Wednesday for dozens of people still missing amid three major wildfires raging near the Greek capital — fires that have so far killed at least 80.
The fires, which began Monday, continue to char the Greek countryside as hundreds of firefighters try to get control of the flames, which are being fueled by heat, strong winds and dry forests.
Wednesday, patrol boats combed the shoreline searching for survivors or victims.
Rafina Mayor Evangelos Bournous said the resort village of Mati in the Attica region “no longer exists.” He added more than a thousand buildings and 300 cars had been damaged.
The number of injured Wednesday neared 200, including at least two dozen children. More than 70 people were in hospitals Wednesday — 10 in serious condition. About 1,500 homes have been damaged, many destroyed.
The last time Greece dealt with a natural disaster of this magnitude was 2007, when fires killed 63 people. The ongoing fires are believed to be the deadliest ever in Greece.
Officials don’t know yet what caused the fires. Some have suggested they may have been started by arsonists wanting to loot abandoned homes.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said 15 fires were started simultaneously on three different fronts in Athens. He said he’s requested drones from the United States to help detect suspicious activity.
“I am deeply saddened for the loss of so many lives in this horrible tragedy,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted. “The EU Commission will spare no effort to help Greece and the Greek people.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras declared three days of mourning to honor the dead.
“The area can only be compared to Syria on a day of heavy bombardment,” Constantine Michalos, the chief of the Athens’ chamber of commerce, told RTE Radio.