The images seem from the end of the world. British families with children, desperate, they drag the suitcases along the beach, fleeing from the burning hotel or the proaching fire. Others come out with what they are wearing. The flames are too close, the firefighters cannot cope and the tourists are left alone in the hotels, abandoned to their fate in Rhodes, in this new wave of fires in Greece.
Other tourists have been rescued by the Greeks, in their own cars, to help get them out of that hell. Thousands of Britons rush to leave Rhodes and the evacuation effort has spread to two other Greek islands while the forest fires continue to rage.
Evacuation efforts have also started in Corfu, in the area called “Kensington on the sea” by the wealthiest Britons, and in Evia, where everything burns
There are believed to be at least 10,000 British tourists on the island of Rhodes, according to Andrew Mitchell, a minister in the British Foreign Office. The fires devastate the south of the island and in their wake burn hotels, summer villas and houses of local inhabitants.
The largest evacuation in history
Greece launched the biggest evacuation effort in its history on Sunday, moving 19,000 people, mainly tourists, from towns and resorts in Rhodes while the forest fires, fanned by winds of high speed, devastated the country for the sixth day.
British low-cost airlines sell packages with hotels included in Greece, and English families are the main clients of this method.
On Sunday, the British government encouraged travel companies and airlinessa reimburse passengers that they had decided not to fly to Rhodes.
Repatriation flights resumed on Monday under pressure from the British government. Initially the airlines and agencies, which sell their tourist packages to the British, had disengaged on Sunday. Ryanair continues with its tourist flights to the island.
But the passengers who took those flights denounced that they go “with half of the seats empty due to the lack of coordination and the bad communication.” The TUIT company should have recognized this and said that it was due to the cuts in communications.
Tourists sleep on the street
Thousands of tourists were forced to spend another night in temporary accommodation, sleeping on the floor of the airport of Rhodesas well as in sports hallsconference centers and on the streets.
The British Foreign Office sent a Rid Displacement Team to Rhodes to support tour operators in bringing tourists home.
Altogether, firefighters were trying to contain 82 forest fires throughout Greece overnight from Sunday to Monday, 64 of which started on the weekend.
“We are in a war against fires,” British Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, calling on people to remain vigilant. In Rhodes there are 15 hydrant planes operating. They will compensate everyone affected.
British minister Andrew Mitchell told Times Radio on Monday: “Our hearts go out to the 7,000 to 10,000 Brits who are on holiday in Rhodes. I have no doubts about the stress and anxiety it has caused.”
But so far London has not announced military repatriation flights.
“Three TUI flights were made overnight to return people to the UK from Rhodes,” the TUI company said.
“We are now working hard to get everyone home safely. Our first passengers returned to the UK on three dedicated overnight flights and we have plans to get all those affected back as soon as possible,” a TUI UK and Ireland spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.
The companies organize
The first unscheduled Jet2 flight from Rhodes landed in Leeds late at night. The airline has announced another three rescue flights, in addition to the 50 scheduled flights in operation.
“We have also significantly increased our presence on the island, with experienced colleagues arriving from other destinations, as well as a dedicated senior team who flew from the UK to Rhodes yesterday (Sunday),” the company said in response to criticism for the dispearance of representatives in hotels and airports.
“These colleagues are there to look after our clients at the evacuation centers, at the resorts and at Rhodes airport. We also have transfer coaches taking clients to the airport from the evacuation centers today.”
“There are up to 10,000 British tourists in Rhodes as bushfires rage through parts of the Greek island,” a Foreign Office minister said.
More repatriation flights to the UK were expected on Monday as part of efforts to get hundreds of stranded British tourists off the island.
Evacuation in Corfu
Maritime evacuations have also begun, from a beach in Corfu, to transport people fleeing the bushfires on the Greek island last night.
“The evacuation involved six coast guard boats and nine private boats, with around 59 people evacuated from Nissaki beach on the northwest coast,” the coast guard said.
Asked how many UK tourists are in Corfu, the Foreign Office minister said: “We’re not sure how many are in Corfu. But the position in Corfu is very different.”
“The fires are not breaking out in residential areas or holiday areas. Although some people were temporarily relocated, they have now been returned to their accommodation.”
Mitchell also said that it is “hard to say” whether the forest fires on the islands will get better or worse. He said that “it depends on which way the wind blows and how fiercely it blows.”
The minister also assured that tour operators “can and should be as close as possible to the people whose holidays they have organised”, as British tourists have accused companies such as Jet2 and TUI of dropping them off at their hotels, without any guidance.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged tourists affected by the wildfires in Greece to stay in touch with tour operators.
During a visit to the West Midlands, Sunak said: “My top priority is the safety of British citizens. That is why the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a Cobra meeting yesterday. He has been monitoring the situation closely.”
Evia evacuated, and Crete is threatened
Meanwhile, evacuations have been underway on a third Greek island affected by wildfires, according to reports: evia
Some 77 firefighters and 25 tankers are battling scattered outbreaks in Evia, east of Athens, the Greek state agency ANA-MPA said, citing the fire department.
It comes as Professor Stefan Doer, director of Swansea University’s bushfire research centre, said other holiday islands, “like Crete”, may also be at risk of forest fires.
Professor Doer said that “insufficient vegetation management” and more extreme weather due to climate change have created “most flammable landsces” in the Greek islands.
On Sunday night, local authorities ordered the evacuation of five beach settlements in Corfu.
However, Mitchell told BBC Breakfast on Monday morning: “The information that I had a minute before this interview started is that there are no evacuations from Corfu. There was movement of people overnight within Corfu. But this morning they were sent back to their previous quarters. So I expect the situation to be a bit better and more stable than their reports suggest.”
Holiday companies Tui and Thomas Cook have canceled trips to Rhodes. However, Tui was criticized for continuing to send people to the island on Sunday, even as the gravity of the situation was clear.
The company recalled that only 10% of the island is affected by these fires and, therefore, it is tourism companies and vacation experts who are in the best position to give guidance on whether or not a family’s or individual’s vacation is going to be ruined by these events.”