ATHENS (Reuters) - Vassiliki Psevedourou heard a loud bang and in horror saw flames dancing menacingly outside her living room window at Neos Voutzas, east of Athens.
A major blaze east of the Greek capital, which has killed at least 60 people in one of the country’s worst fires in recent years, reached her home in an area of pine forest much faster than she expected.
The flames caused her family’s two cars to explode and the 54-year-old woman, her cousin and his wife tried to rush out to the street.
“I could only see a blur, sparks and cars driving aimlessly,” she told Reuters as she awaited an update on her cousin’s health at the Evangelismos hospital in Athens, where many of the 187 injured by the flames have been transferred.
Psevedourou, who limps due to a birth defect, escaped on foot. “I am fast, but it hurts when I walk,” she said.
Her cousin suffered burns all over his body as he tried to save his wife, who was confined to a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. She was missing on Tuesday.
“As we were trying to evacuate, she fell. We tried to lift her but it was impossible. My cousin then dragged her on the ground, trying to take her away to safety,” she said.
“His shoes melted from the heat, the ground was burning. He was trying to hug her, to shield her from the flames, and his legs, his hands, his face were burned.
“He is now in there,” she said, pointing to a room where three out of four patients had been injured during the blaze.
With a tight grip on her mobile phone, Psevedourou was hoping for news on her cousin’s wife, the agony etched on her face.
“We are not sure about her, we are not sure where she is,” she said, before receiving a call informing her that the woman had not been found at another Athens hospital that is treating injured victims of the wildfire.
Dozens have been reported missing since the inferno broke out on Monday evening.
Waiting next to Psevedourou, an 82-year old woman also named Vassiliki shared a story of how her 83-year old sister, a niece and her husband had survived.
“They stayed in the sea for four and a half hours,” she told Reuters, describing an evening that had turned into a nightmare.
“They had their children with them. They tried to escape in the car but when they saw the traffic jam, they just left the car, ran and jumped into the water.”
All three adults suffered skin burns but made it to safety. At least 60 others were less fortunate, finding no way out of the swiftly advancing inferno.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou