Wildfires in Greece have claimed the lives of at least 60 people, in what the country's interior minister, Panos Skourletis, described to Sky News as a "biblical disaster with human losses."
Dozens of forest fires sprang up on Monday, the deadliest of which started near Athens and sent citizens running into the sea to try and escape the inferno. With the flames being fed by gale-force winds, many people were overcome.
Tragically, one group of 26 bodies — believed to be family members — were found huddled together on a beachside cliff. Nikos Economopoulos, head of Greece's Red Cross told Sky, "They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn't make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced."
Roughly 700 people were rescued by coast guard and other vessels along the shore, while 19 survivors and the bodies of four victims were pulled out of the water. Andreaas Passios told the Associated Press, "Everything happened in seconds. I grabbed a beach towel. It saved my life. I soaked it, grabbed my wife and we ran to the sea."
An Egyptian fishing crew rescued Nikos Stavrinidis, who was swept into the sea after jumping in to escape. He described the experience to the AP: "We fell into the sea and tried to distance ourselves, to get away from the carbon dioxide...but as we went further, there was a lot of wind and a lot of current and it started taking us away from the coast. We were not able to see where we were.
"What upsets me and what I will carry in my heart is that it is terrible to see the person next to you drowning and not being able to help him. You can't. That's the only tragic thing — that will stay with me."
All told, more than 150 adults and 16 children were hospitalized at last count, with 10 fires still burning as of late Tuesday morning. Over 400 firefighters have battled the blazes, along with seven water-dropping helicopters and three firefighting aircraft.
Spain sent additional air support and Cyprus sent dozens of firefighters, while Israel and Turkey also offered to help.
The losses are the most devastating for the country since 2007, when more than 60 people were killed by fires that swept through Greece's Peloponnese region.