Thousands of tourists and residents fleeing wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes took shelter in schools and shelters on Sunday, with many evacuating by private boats as flames threatened resorts and coastal villages. Thousands of people spent the night on beaches and streets during what Greece said was the biggest safe transport of residents and tourists in case of emergencies.
Over 19,000 people were evacuated from their homes and hotels overnight as the blaze, which has been burning since last Wednesday, ripped through forests until the flames reached coastal resorts on the island’s south-east coast. Some holidaymakers said they walked for kilometers in the scorching heat to reach safety. The trees are blackened and skeletal in the fire. Dead animals lay on the road next to burnt cars.
Tour operators Jet2, TUI and Correndon canceled flights to Rhodes, located in Greece’s southeast. “The smoke is coming. So we all set out on foot. I walked 12 miles (19 km) yesterday in this heat. It took me four hours,” said British tourist Chris Freestone.
He spoke from a sports hall with evacuees lying on mattresses in the island’s main city, Rhodes Town. TUI said its teams were doing all they could to support customers and had dispatched extra staff in what it called a “difficult and evolving situation”.
Faye Mortimer, another holidaymaker from Cheshire in northern England, said the experience was terrifying. “I’ve never been so scared in my life,” she said.
TUI and Jet2, which handle most of the tourism to Rhodes, planned 14 scheduled flights from Rhodes airport, the Greek transport ministry said, transferring about 2,700 passengers as of 0300 am local time (2400GMT). All TUI and Jet2 flights will land empty to carry tourists, the ministry said.
Fires are common in Greece, but climate change has led to more severe heat waves across southern Europe and many parts of the world.
Temperatures in many parts of Greece exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) last week. In addition to Rhodes, emergency services tackled fires on the island of Evia, east of Athens, Aigio, southwest of Athens, and the island of Corfu, where authorities ordered the precautionary evacuation of five small settlements. A wildfire in Rhodes has affected 10% of hotels in the central and southeastern parts of the island, a fire official said. North and West are not affected.
Coastguard vessels and private boats carried more than 3,000 tourists from the beaches on Saturday. Many people fled their hotels as huge flames reached the seaside villages of Kiotari, Gennadi, Pefki, Lindos, Lardos and Kalathos. Crowds gathered in the streets under red skies as smoke hung over the deserted banks. Another British tourist, John Bancroft, 58, praised islanders for helping tourists and said police ordered the owner of the Kosmas Maris Hotel in Lardos to evacuate after the fire reached the nearby treeline. Pictures and videos posted by tourists on social media showed locals loading tourists into trucks and pick-ups and taking them to safety.
At Lindos, famous for its massive rock acropolis within its medieval walls, hillsides and buildings were engulfed in flames. Thanasis Virinis, the vice mayor of Rhodes, told Mega television on Sunday that between 4,000 and 5,000 people were in temporary accommodation.
Evacuees were taken to conference centers and school buildings, where they were given food, water and medical care, officials said. Local generosity
Tourists in Rhodes include British, Dutch, French and German nationals, and a hotelier said he can receive up to 150,000 visitors at a time during the peak season. The population of the island is approximately 125,000. A British tourist, in an interview with Greek television, said the shops refused money for water and food and took the women and children to safety first before returning for the men.
As crowds filled Rhodes airport, the Greek Foreign Ministry said it was setting up a help desk for people who had lost their travel documents. German travel association DRV said around 20,000 German tourists were on the island, but only a small proportion were affected by the evacuation.
More than 250 firefighters, assisted by 18 aircraft, set up firefighting systems to protect dense forest and more populated areas. Still some tourists arrived.
Pawel Kozlowski from Warsaw drove through Kiotari on Sunday afternoon. “There are burnt cars, electrical lines are on the ground, we saw a broken power pole, still smoking. (It’s) like a war zone,” he said.
(This story has not been edited by DavidDiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)