At least 74 people have died in the worst wildfires to hit Greece in more than a decade, with some residents forced to flee into the sea to escape the advancing flames.
Residents told of horrifying scenes as flames engulfed a seaside village, where the only way out for some was to run for the water.
Boats were mobilized in a hurriedly-organized rescue operation as the flames took hold on Monday night. Reuters reported that 696 people were picked up from beaches and 19 from the sea. Rescuers also retrieved four bodies from the sea.
The Greek fire service confirmed that 25 people were found dead close to the seaside resort village of Mati as they tried to escape the fires.
At least 164 adults and 23 children have been injured in the blazes, which are burning in five main fronts in the Attica region, including one that is currently out of control near Mati. The area is popular with Greek tourists, in particular retirees and children who go to holiday camps there.
The fire service said many of those trying to escape were prevented from doing so by “increased wind intensity,” which helped fan the flames at a rapid pace.
People whose relatives are missing are still making calls to the fire service. In addition to about 500 firefighters battling the five major blazes, more than 100 members of the armed forces and fire brigade are searching for the missing, according to Greek National Fire Brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri.
Greek Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras has declared three days of mourning.
“There are no words to describe the feelings of all of us,” he said during a televised address Tuesday.
“The country is going through a tragedy,” Tsipras said, adding that the events were “unbearable for everyone.”
So far 715 people have been evacuated, mainly from the area of Mati, according to government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos.
The fires are the deadliest to have hit the country since blazes that burned through the southern Peloponnese in August 2007, killing dozens.
“Attica is facing a very difficult night. The combination of intense winds and multiple parallel fronts has created an unprecedented extent and difficulty for firefighters,” Tzanakopoulos said in a briefing late Monday.
The Attica region, which has a population of around 3.5 million people, is home to the capital Athens, the port of Piraeus and a number of suburban towns.
The fires forced the Prime Minster to fly back early from a state visit to Bosnia. He has urged citizens to forget their property and focus on survival.
“Everyone should keep their temper and take care to protect the most precious good that is human life,” he said.
“Property, all that has a material value, (can be) recreated. Human lives are the ones that cannot come back.”
Mati resident Nana Laganou told journalists that she had escaped by running into the sea, that the fire was “lightning fast” and that it was the first time she’d encountered something like this.
“I would have liked to see some (reaction) from the state, but we didn’t and we won’t and that makes me angry.”