Rescuers find 26 bodies near Mati beach

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Wildfires in Greece have killed at least 60 people and left more than 150 injured, with officials declaring a state of emergency.

The bodies of 26 of the dead – many of them huddled together – were discovered in the coastal village of Mati this morning.

Authorities fear they became “trapped in the flames” as they tried to escape to the sea.

The twin forest fires near Athens have sent hundreds of people, including tourists, racing to beaches to be evacuated by navy vessels, yachts and fishing boats.

A house is threatened by a huge blaze during a wildfire in Kineta, near Athens, on July 23, 2018
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Hundreds of homes are being threatened by the fires
People watch the fires burn from a hilltop above Mati, Greece
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People watch the fires burn from a hilltop above Mati

More than 700 people have been rescued by the coastguard.

Greece’s interior minister, Panos Skourletis, has described the fires as a “national tragedy” and a “biblical disaster with human losses”.

Damaged beach facilities at Kineta near Athens
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One of two wildfires raging near Athens started in seaside town Kineta

Strong winds have fanned the flames, which have spread rapidly into residential areas – preventing people who are in their homes or cars from escaping.

Kostas Laganos, who lives in Mati, said scenes in the town reminded him of the volcanic eruption of Pompeii.

A woman tries to find her dog following a wildfire in Mati
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A woman tries to find her dog following the wildfire in Mati
Burned cars are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati
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Cars have been destroyed in the village where 26 bodies were found

He told Sky News: “Thankfully the sea was there and we went into the sea because the flames were chasing us all the way to the water.

“It burned our backs so we dove into the water.

“It reminded me of the eruption at Pompeii – exactly that – and I said ‘my God, we must run to save ourselves and nothing else’. It was terrible.”

Rescue workers have said 26 people were found dead at a resort in the coastal town of Mati
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The wildfires near Athens have claimed at least 49 lives

Some 156 adults and 16 children have been taken to hospital with injuries, including 11 adults who are in a serious condition.

More than 600 firefighters are involved in fighting the blazes and Greece has asked for help from European Union countries.

The Spanish government has sent two water-dropping planes, while a military plane carrying 60 firefighters is arriving from Cyprus.

Greece’s army has also been brought in to help.

Residents of the town of Mati are evacuated by sea
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Residents of Mati are evacuated by sea

Flights have been diverted because of low visibility and the thick smoke from the fires has led to main motorways being shut down.

One fire is burning northeast of Athens in the Penteli area. The other blaze is raging through pine forests 31 miles (50km) west of Athens after starting in the seaside town of Kineta.

A fire rages in the town of Rafina
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Hundreds of firefighters are battling the blazes
Firefighters, soldiers and local residents carry a hose in Rafina
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Firefighters, soldiers and local residents carry a hose in Rafina

Evangelos Bournous, mayor of the Rafina-Pikermi area, near Penteli, said he saw “at least 100 homes in flames”, adding: “I saw it with my eyes – it is a real total catastrophe.”

The state of emergency has been declared by regional authorities.

“This is an extreme situation,” said senior firefighter Achilleas Tzouvaras.

Cars are blocked at the closed National Road during a wildfire in Kineta, near Athens, on July 23, 2018
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Thick smoke can be seen as people try to flee Kineta
Smoke blankets a highway as a fire burns in Kineta, near Athens
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Smoke blankets a highway as a fire burns in Kineta

“People should leave – close up their homes and just leave.

“People cannot tolerate so much smoke for so many hours.”

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: “We are doing everything humanly possible to try and tackle these fires.”

Having cut short a visit to Bosnia, he added: “What concerns us is that there are fires occurring simultaneously.”

The worst fire season in Greece was in 2007, when large sections of forest and farmland were destroyed mainly in the country’s south, and more than 60 people were killed.

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