MATI, Greece – Rescue teams searched through charred houses and cars on Wednesday for those missing after the deadliest forest fires in Greece in the decimated coastal areas near Athens, 79 people and thousands upon thousands fled.
There was no official indication of how many people could be missed, and some appealed to social media and Greek television for information about their loved ones.
Fire Department spokeswoman Stavroula Malliri said the death toll had increased by five to 79.
More than 280 firefighters were still in the area in the northeastern part of Athens in the area of the Rafina and extinguished the remaining flames to prevent a flare. Another 200 firefighters, who were supported by a water cannon, attacked the second forest fire west of the capital, near Agioi Theodori, where the local authorities evacuated three nearby communities, according to the fire department.
Greece flew with half the workforce after the Prime Minister declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
The two fires on either side of the Greek capital began on Monday within hours and were flared up by Stormwind that prevented firefighting efforts.
The speed with which the fire spread northeast of Athens surprised many and probably contributed to the high death toll.
"We could not see a fire, the fire came suddenly, there was so much wind, we did not know how it happened," said Anna Kiriazova, 56, who survived with her husband by sealing herself in her house instead of trying to escape through the flames.
Kiriazova said that she spilled her house in the Mati area near Rafina with water from a garden hose, and the fact that her window frames were spared from metal instead of wood for her home.
"We locked up in the house, we shut the shutters, we had towels over our faces," she told the Associated Press. "The inferno lasted for about an hour and I have no words to describe what we've been through."
Her 65-year-old husband, Theodoros Christopoulos, said the couple had decided to seek shelter in their home because the narrow streets are blocked with cars.
There was a big panic because the whole street was blocked by cars, "said Christopoulos." Screaming, hysteria, they could see the fire was coming with the wind. There was a lot of smell, the sky was black over him, and in no time the fire was here. "
Hundreds of others left cars and fled to nearby beaches, where hours later they were evacuated by coast guards and private boats, and dozens floated out into the sea despite the harsh weather to avoid the heat and stifling smoke
With the number of ambiguities missing, the authorities appealed to people to call them when they were looking for relatives, and some people turned to Greek television and radio stations for information from the public for relatives of whom they had not heard since the fire.
The story of a man desperately looking for his children highlights the plight of many families
Yiannis Philipopoulos appeared on television early Wednesday to ask for help looking for his missing twin daughters, whom he televised on an evacuation of people from beaches Overnight on Monday in the port of Rafina in a fishing boat had seen until Tuesday.
Yiannis Philipopoulos said he and his wife recognized 9-year-old Sophia and Vasiliki in the news bulletins after spending a fruitless day searching hospitals and taking DNA samples at the Athens morgue. He had contacted the police who helped find the girls.
Philipopoulos said the girls had been with his parents, of whom there was no sight in the footage. At TV stations Skai and Alpha, he said the images gave him hope that his children would be alive and urged everyone with information to contact him.
The footage featured two girls among others, many fishing boats dressed only in bathing suits. Philipopoulos said he had gone to the TV station with the police and had seen the recordings in higher resolution and was sure that the children were his daughters. But he had not heard from them since the fire.
The fishing boat captain said the authorities had written down the names of the rescued people as they got out. The names of the two girls, however, did not seem to be among them.
Becatoros reported from Athens. Menelaos Hadjicostis contributed to this report.
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