'A Terrible Day': Greek Wildfires Kill At Least 74 People, Devastate Resort Village The death toll from surprisingly fast-moving fires near Athens has tripled from Monday. Officials in Greece said they found 26 bodies in one spot.
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'A Terrible Day': Greek Wildfires Kill At Least 74 People, Devastate Resort Village

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'A Terrible Day': Greek Wildfires Kill At Least 74 People, Devastate Resort Village

'A Terrible Day': Greek Wildfires Kill At Least 74 People, Devastate Resort Village

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/631783839/632019429" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Greece is dealing with the worst wildfires it's seen in more than a decade. At least 74 people have died so far, and authorities say they expect the death toll to rise as they search burned-out homes. Nearly 200 others have been injured, including 23 children. The fires struck coastal resort areas filled with tourists. Some victims drowned after they ran to the sea to take refuge from the smoke and flames, which were fanned by gale force winds. Joanna Kakissis reports from one of the worst hit areas - Rafina, just outside Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Panos Tzilavis runs a hotel called Marathon Beach in the seaside town of Nea Makri. The evening he heard about the fire nearby, he looked at the sky and saw huge plumes of smoke.

PANOS TZILAVIS: Late in the evening, we saw that the fire was getting really huge. And then we understood that there would be a lot of problems during the night with people that - they will have their houses burned.

KAKISSIS: He decided to open up his hotel to survivors. They came in the middle of the night - 50 of them - from a monastery in Mati, the village most damaged by the fire. The group included monks, nuns, elderly folks in wheelchairs and 10 teenage orphans. Tzilavis switches to Greek to explain.

TZILAVIS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "They arrived exhausted and stressed," he says. "They spoke about how they left as soon as they saw the flames. They were afraid they'd burn up, and the monastery indeed burned to the ground." NPR asked to speak to the survivors in the monastery, but the Greek Orthodox Church would not allow it.

(CROSSTALK)

KAKISSIS: Every few hours, locals drop off food, juice, clothes and shampoo for the survivors.

(SOUNDBITE OF AIRCRAFT FLYING)

KAKISSIS: The villages burnt by the fire have now been mostly evacuated. Near the village of Mati, where the remains of houses and cars are still smoldering, architect Yiannis Orphanos examines his burnt-out home.

YIANNIS ORPHANOS: (Speaking Greek).

KAKISSIS: "It's destroyed, but I'll rebuild it," he says. "A friend was staying here, but thank God she got out." Not far from here, 26 bodies were found huddled together. He shakes his head.

ORPHANOS: (Through interpreter) They were surrounded by thick smoke and were trying to make their way to the beach, but because the smoke was so thick, they must have found it hard to orient themselves. They never made it to the beach. The smoke overwhelmed them.

KAKISSIS: He can't stop thinking about them - adults and children found hugging each other before the flames swept over them. Orphanos hugs his own son and walks through the charred ruins of his home, thinking that he's one of the lucky ones. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Rafina, Greece.

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