Rhodes fire: Holidays ruined for thousands of evacuated tourists

Thousands of British, German and French holidaymakers waited to leave the Greek island at Rhodes airport on Sunday after battling flames and braving a furnace for hours.

“We had to keep going. So we walked for about six hours in the heat,” British tourist Kelly Squirrel told AFP at the island’s international airport in the Dodecanese archipelago (southeast).

Working in the transport sector, he is one of thousands of tourists whose holiday has been abruptly cut short by raging fires raging in the south of the island for the sixth day in a row.

The British woman was in the swimming pool of her hotel on Saturday when she saw flames coming from her.

– run to the beach –

“The police came to the reception and asked everyone to go to the beach,” he said. “So we ran to the beach. We sat there for fifteen minutes, half an hour.”

As the smoke deepened, “we were told to walk along the beach,” she adds.

In the departure hall of the airport located in the northwest of the island, several tens of kilometers from the fire, some vacationers are lying on the ground or sleeping among their luggage.

Others have gathered in front of departure display boards, trying to spot a flight to Hamburg, Amsterdam or Lille (northern France) that will take them home.

Still others bear their troubles patiently while playing cards and the children rest on inflatable floats.

While holidaying on the island off the Turkish coast, Briton Claire O’Donovan reports she took a long walk under the sun with her suitcase.

“We eventually managed to get a truck that took us to an elevated beach,” she says.

At the hotel we were told, “Wait here, we’ll be back in an hour or two, then they disappeared. So we were there, it was dark, you could see the fire in the distance”.

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

– long lines –

Greek television broadcast pictures of long queues of pedestrians lining the island’s streets on Saturday, some in beach gear, some dragging suitcases, when evacuations were ordered.

TUI, the world’s number one in tourism, has announced it will suspend all passenger flights to Rhodes, a decision also taken by British low-cost airline Jet2.

A total of twelve areas have been evacuated in the center and south of the island, including Lindos, which is one of the main attractions for travelers with the Acropolis on top of the hill.

German Paul F., 23, who was holidaying with his friend Lara, told daily Bild that he was “saved from the fire at the last minute” when he was at his hotel on Saturday.

This man from Bielefeld (West Germany) said, “I felt like I was alone, it was very hot and the smoke was already so thick that we could not last more than ten minutes.”

“That’s when the buses finally came and the tourists were evacuated,” he said. He also told Bild, “Some people ran to the beach in panic and tried to find a boat so they could get on the boat.”

Tourists take shelter as a fire torched a basketball court in the island of Rhodes, hit by a fire of unprecedented scale, on July 23, 2023 (Eurokinisi/AFP – Stringer)

Thousands of people who had to leave their homes or hotels took shelter for the night in gymnasiums, schools or convention centers. Some people were preparing to spend the second night there on Sunday evening.

Greece has been in the grip of a heatwave for the past ten days, which has worsened over the weekend with local temperatures exceeding 46 degrees Celsius.

The Rhodes fires were fueled by strong winds, while on Sunday, the thermometer showed 36 degrees Celsius, according to the national meteorological service EMY.

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