Greek Islands:  Fireball Rhodes

image courtesy of @hughesay 1985 via twitter | eTurboNews | eTN
image courtesy of @hughesay_1985 via twitter

British holidaymakers found themselves flying into hell on Sunday when they arrived in the Greek Islands.

Instead of going to a booked hotel, visitors arriving on Sunday were taken to a basketball stadium and spent the night sleeping on the floor.  But why would anyone fly out there knowing about the extreme heatwave while 19,000 are fleeing the Rhodes blazes?

Wildfires on Rhodes are out of control with more evacuations needed as the rescue of thousands of Britons from the blaze-ravaged Greek island and the crisis caused by Europe’s 40C-plus Cerberus heatwave spread to Corfu today.

Raging wildfires in Corfu have sparked more evacuations in Greece as Brits face more holiday chaos amid the European heatwave.

Holidaymakers have described the “living nightmare” of being woken by air raid sirens and being forced to run into the sea as fires swept through forests and hills above their hotels, comparing it to a “disaster movie,” British media reported.

“We are in the seventh day of the fire and it hasn’t been controlled,” Rhodes Deputy Mayor Konstantinos Taraslias told state broadcaster ERT. “This is really stressful for us, because it can affect other areas that are safe and operate as normal.”

“The tourists are not able to know where the wildfires are in Rhodes.”

“Even the Greeks can’t really understand where the wildfires are located in the island.”

Pictures showed thousands of tourists desperately trying to flee the inferno in the past 24 hours, with many forced to abandon their belongings and sleep on beaches and hotel floors if they couldn’t get to the airport.

Yet there is a sharp contrast in reporting as TUI (German travel giant) is talking of 19,000 holidaymakers, while British media is reporting over 30,000 guests on the burning Greek island with over 10,000  from Great Britain.

A TUI spokesman said the firm has around 40,000 customers from all over Europe in Rhodes, of which 7,800 are affected by the fires.

So, why is the TUI Head Office (in Germany) talking of only 19,000 holidaymakers on Rhodes and downgrading the catastrophe? They are still trying to get the guests out as quickly as possible, a spokeswoman said on Monday. Strangely, TUI did not report a new level on Monday compared to Sunday while the situation got worse. 

Britons being evacuated because of the wildfires on Rhodes today described chaos and confusion as they try to get home including seeing UK tourists landing on the Greek island being immediately ushered into “rescue buses” to emergency accommodations.

However, TUI has now suspended its flights to Rhodes until Tuesday we learned, while Jet2 Holidays cancelled its trips until next Sunday.

Rishi Sunak, the British Premier, has urged holidaymakers to remain in touch with tour operators before going on their holidays. But the Foreign Office has stopped short of warning against travelling to Rhodes or Corfu at this time, making it harder for anyone seeking compensation.

However, most major airlines and holiday companies will continue to fly there until they close the airport.

One holidaymaker said that easyJet is still operating flights where passengers are being “ushered into rescue buses as soon as they arrived.” She asked, “Where are they?”

“I am absolutely disgusted. I worked in travel myself. No support whatsoever. I want an explanation.”

Helen Tonks, a mother of six from Cheshire, said she was flown into a “living nightmare” by Tui at 11 pm on Saturday and discovered her hotel had been closed.

She said: “We landed and were told, ‘sorry, you can’t go to your hotel – it’s burned down.’ We had no idea the fires were this bad or as close to the hotels as they were. TUI said nothing, not even when our flight was delayed. Even the captain’s chat on the plane was upbeat. We would never have come if we had known,” The Daily Mail reported.

Up to 10,000 Britons are estimated to be on Rhodes, with repatriation flights to rescue holidaymakers now landing back in the UK. 

Some flight operators, including TUI, continued sending tourists to the island as late as Saturday night, with customers complaining they had been “abandoned” there.

On Sunday, BBC interviewed stranded passengers at Rhodes Airport who were left without any assistance, no information, and were still sitting and sleeping on the airport floor after 27 hours of waiting for their scheduled departure on Saturday, when they were finally moved away from departure gate without any explanation, no water, and no nothing in soaring heat.

Meanwhile, the focus is on the return journey of tourists to Germany. The German Travel Association (DRV) informed on Monday: “The tour operators have numerous special flights in operation today, tomorrow, and on Wednesday to bring the travelers affected by the evacuations back home.”

Many tourists had no food or water and were forced to find makeshift beds on cardboard boxes, sun loungers, and even baggage carousels.

Deputy Mayor of Rhodes Athansios Bryinis said, “There is only water and some rudimentary food. We don’t have mattresses and beds.”

Winds of up to 35 mph have made it even harder for firefighters to put out the destructive blazes. With temperatures expected to hit 45C, the Ministry for Civil Protection warned of a very high risk of wildfires in almost half of Greece.

Photos in the British media showed thousands of tourists desperately trying to flee the inferno in the past 24 hours, with many forced to abandon their belongings and sleep on beaches and hotel floors if they couldn’t get to the airport. Some families walked for miles in their flip-flops, Crocs, or sandals, pulling their suitcases and carrying pool inflatables to get to safety.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection is calling this crisis, the country’s largest wildfire evacuation in history. In Corfu, 2,000 were ordered out today, Monday as the fire rages in the northeast end of the island. Tourists were being crowded into emergency shelters in schools, airports, and sports facilities.

Temperatures in southern Greece on the mainland have soared as high as 113 degrees in recent days. According to government spokesperson, Pavlos Marinakis, there has been an average of 50 new wildfires that have ignited over the last 12 days, including 64 on Sunday.


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About the author

Elisabeth Lang - special to eTN

Elisabeth has been working in the international travel business and hospitality industry for decades and contributing to eTurboNews since the start of the publication in 2001. She has a worldwide network and is an international travel journalist.

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