Greece fire: Rhodes airport, a makeshift camp for troubled tourists

Seasonal workers lay on beach towels, holidaymakers in bathing suits reclined on chairs: Rhodes airport looks like a makeshift camp on Monday as a fire ravages part of this hugely touristy Greek island.

In the departure hall of the international airport, many holidaymakers, waiting for flights back to their countries, share stories of their “nightmare evacuation” from the hotels and holiday residences along the Aegean Sea where they were staying.

“We are exhausted and in shock,” he told AFP. “I don’t think we really realized what happened.” “We were taken to the beach,” he recalls, after the hotel alarm went off on Saturday.

– “Miracle” –

“There were thousands of people, the buses couldn’t go, we had to walk for more than two hours (…) We couldn’t breathe, we covered our faces to move on. It’s a miracle,” he says, overwhelmed with emotion.

Rhodes, with 2.5 million visitors expected in 2022, is one of Greece’s top resort destinations, with many hotels on its eastern shores.

According to firefighters, some 30,000 people were evacuated on Saturday and Sunday as a precaution against the spread of the flames, in what was the largest evacuation operation ever in Greece.

Clad in plastic sandals, headscarves, Audrey and Marilyn, who also did not want to give their surnames, are waiting in the airport hall, which faces Turkish shores in the northwest of the island.

The two Nigerian seasonal workers, aged 19 and 20, living in Budapest worked at a hotel in Lindos, one of the main attractions of its famous ancient Acropolis.

– “No evacuation plan” –

Audrey says, “We knew there was a fire but it seemed like the fire was far away. And suddenly everything changed.” “No specific evacuation plan has been put in place,” she adds.

Marilyn told of the crying, the stress of the customers and the hotel staff.

“We were very scared. We went on our own”, assured the young woman in front of a distribution of water and snacks set up by airport staff.

Like many survivors, the two young women make arrangements for their return on their own.

Several European countries set up consular offices at the airport on Sunday evening to help their citizens.

“It is getting better but a lot of planes are full so you have to be patient. The situation should return to normal in a few days,” a representative of the French consulate at the site said on condition of anonymity.

“Some tour operators don’t respond, so holidaymakers find themselves helpless and turn to us,” says the French representative.

Since most hotels are full, emergency accommodation has been set up by the Greek authorities in public buildings, cultural venues and other gymnasiums.

Hoteliers are trying to deal with the most urgent.

“We managed the situation in the best way possible in this huge evacuation,” explains Manolis Markopolos, president of the Rhodes hoteliers’ association. He further said, “Everyone has been rescued and are now in safe places. No one is hungry or thirsty.”

But as of Monday afternoon, the fire on the island continued to rage for the seventh day in a row.

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