April 24, 2024

‘It was hell on earth’: British tourists describe fleeing for their lives from Rhodes wildfire

A mother who says she experienced “hell on earth” was among British tourists forced to flee Rhodes this weekend as raging wildfires ripped through the Greek holiday island.

Officials on the island, located southwest of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, launched Greece’s biggest-ever evacuation operation as the fire tore through large swathes of land, threatening popular resorts.

Tourists were forced to shelter in school stadiums, airports and other hotels as firefighters fought hard to contain the flames, which officials on Monday feared could more than double wind speeds on the island.

As Britons rushed to book seats on packed flights home after the evacuations, holiday firms including Jet2, the UK’s biggest tour operator, announced they would be canceling services to Rhodes and sending empty planes to bring stranded tourists home.

A total of around 19,000 people are reported to have been evacuated from Rhodes, the largest of the Greek Dodecanese islands, which has a local population of around 115,000.

Smoke rises from a wildfire on the island of Rhodes

(via REUTERS)

Becky Mulligan, a 29-year-old training manager from Leicester, was staying at the Princess Sun Hotel in Kiotari resort on the south-east coast of Rhodes when she, her five-year-old daughter and 20-year-old sister were forced to quickly pack their bags and flee as the sky turned “orange”.

“Smoke started coming up against the window of the hotel so we decided to run,” she said The Independent. “Helicopters were hovering overhead shaking the whole building.

“We managed to turn it down a dirt track with the smoke coming up around our feet. I thought I was going to die. It was like hell on earth.”

Ms Mulligan and her family had to seek refuge on the beach while they waited for coaches to come and collect them, which she described as the “scariest point”.

She said hundreds of people were waiting to be evacuated with adults “basically trampling over children to get on the buses”. The three were then taken to the Gennadi Grande resort and from there by bus to another location, where they were forced to spend Saturday night on the floor of a hotel room.

On Sunday morning they managed to escape safely, sharing a taxi with another family to the airport where their flight back to the UK was due to leave after 11pm.

Dan Jones, a sports teacher from Torquay, Devon, said he had to go up on a fishing trawler with his sons on Saturday night, describing it as “the scariest moment of my whole life”, adding: “What brave boys.”

said Ian Wakefield Times Radio he spent the night in a school playground in Faliraki after being evacuated from his hotel in Pefki.

He said: “It didn’t really feel like it – he was in danger of being burnt to death. Between midnight and around 5am in the morning we were going through a very chaotic evacuation.

“Many people were upset and children were very hysterical, understandably. It was all very confusing – the instructions from the hotel manager were not clear.

“You had to make your own choice in the end. I had to leave a lot of luggage at the hotel.”

As fire crews struggled to contain the blazes and thick black smoke billowed into the sky, British holiday firms began canceling flights to Rhodes, although some planes touched down on the island on Saturday night and early Sunday morning despite the emergency.

Jet2 Holidays canceled all flights to the island until July 30 and said it would send empty planes to bring stranded Britons home, while Tui said it would cancel all flights and holidays until Tuesday.

A man carries a child as they leave an area where a forest fire is burning, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, Saturday, July

(AP)

Thomas Cook later announced that all holidays to Kiotari and Lardos – the areas of the island most at risk – were canceled until July 31 and that it would be contacting customers to arrange “swift refunds”. It has also offered full refunds to customers due to leave elsewhere on the island on Sunday and Monday who wish to cancel their trip.

But some tourists suggested that operators should have canceled flights to the island earlier.

Lowri Jones from Crymych, Pembrokeshire, Wales, described scenes of “chaos” at Rhodes Airport when she arrived on Saturday night. The mother of three, 52, traveled to the Greek island with her thirteen-year-old daughter on holiday.

“It was absolute pandemonium at the airport, with long queues of people trying to find out which coach they were,” she said The Independent. “We booked with Tui and there was very little communication from them.

“We were supposed to stay at the Atlantica Dreams hotel in Gennadi but we were driven – without warning – to another resort in the north of the island because of the wildfires.”

A burnt area is seen during a wildfire on the island of Rhodes

(via REUTERS)

She said: “My daughter and I ended up spending the night on the floor with other people in a room with no air conditioning and sweltering heat – it was horrible.

“To be honest, I don’t think we should even be there in the first place. The flight was delayed as the pilot had to carry out a risk assessment to see if it was safe to land due to the fires.

“Tui should have told us it wasn’t safe and given us a refund – at least that way I could decide to book somewhere else. Now I’m stuck in Rhodes and have to look into booking flights home.”

A spokesman for Tui said they are continuing to monitor the wildfires and was grateful for the “anxious and difficult” situation for its customers.

Anyone staying in Rhodes is advised to “follow the advice of local authorities managing tourist movements in affected areas,” they said.

Britain’s ambassador to Greece said the Foreign Office had sent a “rapid deployment team” to help UK tourists who were among the thousands forced to flee for their lives on Saturday as the wildfire spread.

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