A mum who says she has experienced “hell on earth” was among British tourists forced to flee Rhodes this weekend as fierce bushfires continued to rage on the Greek holiday island.
Officials on the island, which lies southwest of Turkey in the Aegean Sea, have launched Greece’s largest-ever evacuation as swathes of land go up in flames, threatening popular holiday resorts.
Tourists were forced to take shelter in schools, sports stadiums, airports and alternative hotels as firefighters battled desperately to contain the blaze, which officials feared could intensify on Monday as winds more than doubled on the island.
As Britons rush to book seats on their packed flights home after evacuations, holiday companies including Jet2, the UK’s largest tour operator, have announced they will cancel services to Rhodes and send empty planes to bring stranded tourists home.
EasyJet said it would organize repatriation flights to pick up stranded British holidaymakers. They added that two rescue flights are scheduled to be launched on Monday and a third flight on Tuesday.
About 19,000 people have been evacuated in total from Rhodes, the largest of the Greek Dodecanese islands, which has a local population of around 115,000.
Becky Mulligan, a 29-year-old training manager from Leicester, was staying at the Princess Sun Hotel in the Kiotari resort on the southeast coast of Rhodes when 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 out of the hotel window, so we decided to run away,” she said. The Independent. There were helicopters flying over the building which caused the whole building to shake.
“We ended up putting our feet up on a dirt track as smoke billowed around our legs. I thought I was going to die. It was like hell on earth.”
Mrs. Mulligan and her family had to seek refuge on the beach where they were waiting for coaches to come to pick them up, which she described as “the most frightening point”.
It said hundreds of people were waiting to be evacuated, with adults “trampling on children to get to buses”. The trio were then taken to Gennadi Grande Resort and from there bussed to another location, where they were forced to spend Saturday night on the floor of a hotel room.
On Sunday morning they made a safe escape, sharing a taxi with another family to the airport where their flight back to the UK was due to leave just after 11pm.
Dan Jones, a sports teacher from Torquay, Devon, said he had to board a fishing trawler with his sons on Saturday night, describing it as “the scariest moment of my whole life”, adding: “What brave lads”.
said Ian Wakefield Radio Times He spent the night on a school playground in Faliraki after being evicted from his hotel in Pefki.
He said: ‘It didn’t really feel like it was real – to be in imminent danger of being burned to death. Between midnight and about five this morning we were going through an evacuation process which was very chaotic.
“There were so many restless people and children who were quite understandably hysterical. It was very confusing – the instructions from the hotel manager were not clear.
“You had to choose on your own in the end. I had to leave a lot of luggage at the hotel.”
As firefighting teams struggled to contain the blazes and thick black smoke continued to billow in the sky, British holiday companies began canceling flights to Rhodes, although some planes landed on the island on Saturday night and early Sunday morning despite the state of emergency.
Jet2 Holidays has canceled all flights to the island until July 30 and said it will send empty planes to bring stranded Britons home, while TUI said it will cancel all flights and holidays until Tuesday.
Thomas Cook later announced that it had canceled all holidays in Kiotari and Lardos – the two most vulnerable areas on the island – through July 31 and would be in touch with customers to arrange “quick refunds”. It has also offered full refunds to customers scheduled to depart for other parts of the island on Sunday and Monday who wish to cancel their flight.
But some vacationers have suggested airlines should have canceled flights to the island sooner.
Laurie Jones, from Cremish, Pembrokeshire, Wales, described scenes of “chaos” at Rhodes Airport when she got there on Saturday night. The mother of a child, 52, traveled to the Greek island with her thirteen-year-old daughter for a vacation.
“It was pandemonium at the airport, with long lines of people trying to figure out which coach they were,” she said. The Independent. “We booked with Tui and there was very little communication from them.
“We were due to stay at the Atlantica Dreams in Gennadi but were moved – without warning – to a completely different resort in the north of the island due to bushfires.”
She added: “My daughter and I ended up spending the night on the floor with other people in a room without air conditioning in the sweltering heat – it was horrible.
“Honestly, I don’t think we should have been there in the first place. The flight was delayed because the pilot had to do a risk assessment to see if it was safe to land because of the fires.
“Tui should have told us it wasn’t safe and given us a refund – at least that way I could have decided to book somewhere else. Now I’m stranded in Rhodes and have to look at booking flights back home.”
A Tui spokesperson said it continues to monitor wildfires and expressed its appreciation for the “painful and difficult” situation for its customers.
We urge anyone staying on Rhodes to “follow the advice of the local authorities who manage the movements of tourists in the affected areas,” they said.
Britain’s ambassador to Greece said the Foreign Office had sent a “rapid deployment team” to help British tourists who were among the thousands forced to flee for their lives on Saturday as bushfires spread.