Pope Francis on Tuesday expressed his sadness for the many deaths caused by raging wildfires in areas close to the Greek capital, Athens, where at least 77 people have been found burnt to death..
In a telegramme addressed to ecclesiastical and civil authorities by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin on his behal, the Pope said he extends his heartfelt solidarity to all those affected by this tragedy, commends the deceased to the merciful love of Almighty God, and offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they continue in their rescue efforts.
Meanwhile, John Carr in Athens reports that at least 60 people have perished in the fires in the Attica region around Athens.
The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are found in gutted homes.
The worst-hit area is Mati, a popular seaside town northeast of Athens, which from the air looks like it has been hit by a nuclear bomb. Early this morning rescue workers came on the charred bodies of 26 people, including women and children, who had been running to the sea to escape the flames but didn’t make it. They were huddled in a mass, embracing one another.
The mass of flame surged without warning down from the wooded hills, fanned by violent westerly winds reaching Force 9 in strength. At least 130 people have been injured, a dozen of them critically. Many hundreds of homes are smoking hulks, as well as about 1,000 cars, many of them abandoned in panic by their drivers. The suddenness and violence of the inferno moved commentators here in Athens to describe the disaster as biblical.
About 700 people, some of them tourists, were evacuated from the beach at Mati by the Greek Coast Guard. But others had to spend the night in the water as the surging flames reached the water’s edge. A few are believed to have drowned, swept out to sea by the strong wind.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras broke off an official visit to Bosnia, to fly back to Athens last night. He called the fires a national tragedy and pledged a thorough investigation. This afternoon there were still pockets of flame in both the afflicted areas. Dazed homeowners were surveying their gutted property. Several dozen people are still missing, while throughout the day more bodies are being discovered.