Strong Winds Fueling Fires in Rhodes
Greece continues to battle severe wildfires, with a major fire in Rhodes still out of control despite a massive deployment of firefighting planes and helicopters. Additional hotel properties are also at risk.
Despite more than 100 firefighting planes and helicopters being in operation for days, fires continue to rage in numerous regions of Greece. According to civil protection authorities, the fire risk is extremely high.
The situation remains dramatic in the southeastern part of the holiday island of Rhodes. Strong winds keep reigniting the flames. Six villages north and west of the ancient site of Lindos are threatened.
Firefighting plane crashes
During firefighting operations on the island of Euboea, one of the aircraft crashed, according to the fire department. No further details were immediately provided. According to state broadcaster ERT, the accident happened in the city of Karystos in the south of the island.
Firefighting planes and helicopters are once again being deployed in Rhodes since daybreak in an effort to get the flames under control. "Firefighting efforts are very challenging due to the shifting winds," said a spokesperson for the fire department on state radio. Firefighters from several EU member states are assisting with the firefighting operations. Turkey and Egypt have also sent firefighting planes and helicopters.
On Monday, several houses on the mountains of the island burned down. Additional hotel properties are also at risk. The damage in Rhodes is already significant. According to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, about 10% of the island's hotels were damaged over the weekend. Most of the affected tourist facilities are located south of the Lindos region.
Criticism of rescue operation
British tourists criticized the organization of the evacuations. "Our hotel had space for 1,200 people, but there was only one bus waiting," said Ian Murison, a businessman from London. According to the British government, there are between 7,000 and 10,000 British nationals on the island. Some tourists complained that the travel companies had not provided them with any information or assistance.
"We took all our suitcases and started walking. It took about three kilometers to get out from under the cloud of ash," said Murison about his family's escape from the hotel. Together with his wife and son, they eventually reached a beach. There, in the dark due to a power outage, they, along with thousands of others, waited for evacuation by bus or boat.
Chaotic scenes unfolded on the beach. People crowded to get onto one of the small boats that were supposed to take the vacationers to safety. "It didn't matter if you had children. Adults fought to be next in line," he said.
Staff from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and several embassies tried to help tourists who had lost their travel documents at the international airport.
Thousands of tourists flown out
Several tour operators and airlines, such as TUI and Easyjet, sent planes to Rhodes to evacuate stranded tourists. Thousands of tourists from various countries have already been brought back home ahead of schedule, a TUI spokesperson told the dpa news agency. Another special flight to Germany took place today, following four flights that occurred yesterday.
TUI has canceled all flights to the popular holiday island until at least Friday (July 28). This applies to trips to the south of Rhodes until Sunday (July 30). DER Touristik has also canceled all trips to the south of Rhodes until Saturday.