Tour operators flew more than 2,000 holidaymakers home on Monday after wildfires raged on the island of Rhodes. More repatriation flights will depart on Monday and Tuesday as the fire continues to burn, and the civil protection authority has warned that the threat of more fires has risen in almost all parts of Greece.
Fires burning in Rhodes since Wednesday have forced 19,000 people from their homes and hotels as an inferno has ravaged coastal resorts in the island’s southeast. A forest fire also caused evacuations on the island of Corfu. Rhodes and Corfu are among the main destinations in Greece for tourists, mainly from Britain and Germany.
“For the next few weeks we must be constantly vigilant. We are at war, we will rebuild what we have lost, we will compensate those injured,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament. “The climate crisis is already here and it will appear everywhere in the Mediterranean with great disasters.”
After checking out of hotels and resorts, many tourists spent the night on the Rhodes airport floor, waiting for flights home, the first of which left overnight. The Greek Transport Ministry said 2,115 tourists were sent home on 17 flights from Sunday to 3pm Monday (1200 GMT), mainly to Britain, Germany and Italy. Government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis described the evacuation as the country’s largest takeover.
British Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell estimated that 10,000 Britons were on the island. At Cologne-Bonn airport, returning German tourists spoke of holidays in the sun turning into torture, describing how her family walked 11 kilometers (7 miles) to safety.
“We wanted to drink and people stood in their houses and sprayed us from their hoses and we drank from the hoses. Everyone was walking and we didn’t know where,” Violeta Kasmarczyk told Reuters. Others expressed relief at being spared. However, there was no compromise for the locals.
In the southern resort of Kiotari, smoke billowed from its deserted beach and a singed Greek flag waved above a charred truck. Many local residents, fearing for their homes, took shelter in a restaurant near the coast. Others poured seawater into a large tank stacked on a truck to fight the fire. “The wind is very high today. It will be worse on Wednesday. It is very bad, the situation is very bad. We need help. Help us from everywhere,” said Lanai Karpataki, a local resident.
Repatriation flights TUI took three planeloads of passengers back to Britain overnight, Britain’s easyJet set up two extra flights on Monday and Jet2 had three extra flights for 600 people. Air France was also flying from Rhodes with increased capacity.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said his airline had not seen passengers trying to cancel flights to Rhodes over the weekend as fires raged in the south of the island, at the airport and at most resorts in the north. In Corfu, around 2,500 people were offered shelter, including in stadiums, although many returned to their hotels on Monday.
Greece is often hit by wildfires in the summer, but climate change has led to more severe heatwaves across southern Europe, raising concerns that tourists will stay away. Tourism accounts for 18 percent of Greece’s GDP and a fifth of employment. Rhodes and many other Greek islands have an even greater dependence on tourism.
All areas of Greece are under threat of wildfires on Monday, Civil Protection said. Temperatures in many parts of the country exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) last week and are forecast to remain so for the coming days.
Emergency services dealt with fires on the island of Evia, east of Athens, and Agios, southwest of Athens. (Additional reporting by Carolina Tagaris, Renee Maltezzo, Angeliki Kutanto in Athens, Michelle Cambus in Nicosia, Padraic Halpin in Dublin and Sarah Young in London; Writing by Philip Blenkinsopp; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
(This story has not been edited by DavidDiscourse staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)