Greece: Thousands evacuated from Rhodes

ATHENS (Reuters) – Thousands of people, including tourists, on Greece’s Rhodes island were forced to take shelter in covered schools and stadiums after being evacuated from coastal villages and resorts on Sunday because of wildfires that have ravaged the region for six days.

Coast Guard ships and dozens of private boats ferried more than 2,000 beachgoers on Saturday after strong winds ravaged a southeastern part of the island famous for its beaches and ancient ruins.

Many tourists left their hotels when the flames reached the coastal villages of Kiotari, Gennadi, Pefki, Lindos, Lardos and Kalathos. Under red and smoky skies, the streets were packed with people waiting to be evacuated.

“We have 4,000 to 5,000 people in different structures,” Rhodes’ deputy mayor Thanasis Virinis told Mega TV channel on Sunday, appealing for donations of basic necessities such as mattresses and sheets.

A government official told Reuters that 19,000 people had been displaced from their homes and hotels. The Ministry of Civil Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Volunteers helped extinguish a blaze and destroyed buildings on a hill near Lindos, one of the most visited sites on the island, famous for the Acropolis on a huge rock inside the medieval walls.

too much risk on sunday

Civil protection on Sunday warned of a very high risk of wildfires in almost half of Greece, where temperatures are expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius. The heat waves affecting southern Europe and many parts of the world are likely to continue till August.

Although fires are not uncommon in Greece, increasing heat, dryness and high winds in recent years have increased the risk of such incidents. Climate change will increase the frequency of heat waves, an advisory from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Saturday.

Fire department spokesman Ioannis Artopoios told Radio Sky that in Rhodes, evacuees were housed in hotels, indoor stadiums, convention centers and school buildings.

“They received food, water and medical aid,” he said, adding that the Greek Foreign Ministry would provide assistance to foreigners wishing to leave the country through Rhodes airport.

Ryanair said on Sunday that its flights to and from Rhodes were operating normally and were unaffected by the fire.

Tour operators Jet2 and TUI, on their part, said on Sunday that they had canceled flights from Rhodes.

Firefighters supported by Canadairs battled on three fronts on Sunday, working to contain the blaze to prevent flames from spreading into dense forest or threatening other residential areas.

(Reporting by Renée Maltezou and Angelique Coutantou, French edition by Claude Chandjou)

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