A major forest fire that has ravaged the Greek island of Rhodes has forced thousands of tourists to flee their hotels in what Greek authorities have called the largest evacuation effort in the country’s history.
Fires are also burning on the islands of Corfu and Euboea, with the Greek emergency services having issued evacuation orders for several parts of Corfu.
In Rhodes, those affected by the fire described chaotic and frightening scenes, with some having to leave on foot or find their own transport after being ordered to leave.
The forest fire in the central and southern part of Rhodes – an island very popular with holidaymakers – has been raging since Tuesday. This is the biggest of a number of fires Greecewhich is sweltering due to a heat wave that experts say could become the longest on record in the country.
At least 12 hotels have been evacuated, authorities said.
Amy Leyden, a British tourist in Rhodes, said she was told to leave her hotel immediately or she and her family “won’t make it”.
“It was just terrifying,” she told Sky News. “We had our 11-year-old daughter with us and we were walking down the street at two in the morning and the fire was catching up with us.”
Cédric Guisset, a Belgian tourist, fled on Saturday with nowhere to go. “We informed the hotel of the messages we received on our phones to evacuate the area, but they weren’t even aware of it,” he told public radio RTBF.
“We just took our IDs, water and something to cover our faces and heads. »
The Greek government announced that nearly 19,000 people had been evacuated to Rhodes since Saturday.
Boats were used to ferry some tourists to safety.
The government called the operation “the largest effort of its kind ever seen in Greece” and said 16,000 people, including tourists and residents, were transported by land and 3,000 by sea.
According to local firefighters, firefighters are currently focusing on three active fronts in the central and southern part of the island.
The fire is burning near the areas of Kiotari and Lardos, not far from the archaeological site of Lindos. The site has not been threatened so far.
On Monday, one of the fronts flared up again, threatening the village of Asklipio, in the south of the island.
Turkey, Croatia and Egypt are helping Greek firefighters, according to firefighters.
Hotels, schools, sports centers and conference centers have been activated in safe areas on the island to accommodate evacuees in need.
The Greek Foreign Ministry will set up a dedicated assistance service to help tourists on their return to their respective countries, according to the Greek government. Tour operators have further ordered charter flights to land in Rhodes without passengers “in order to accommodate travelers wishing to leave the island”, it says.
Eight people were hospitalized with respiratory problems, according to firefighters.
British airline Jet2 canceled all flights and holiday deals to Rhodes on Sunday. Holiday group TUI has also canceled all of its vacation packages to the Greek island through and including Tuesday due to the ongoing forest fires, the two companies said in statements.
British airline EasyJet is offering customers two repatriation flights from Rhodes to London, the company announced on Monday. The company has canceled package tours to Rhodes “until and including Tuesday”, the statement continued.
The British government has deployed a team of Foreign Office officials and British Red Cross responders to Rhodes to help evacuate British nationals from the island, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley said. in a press release. Tweeter posted Monday.
Smoke rises from a forest fire on the island of Corfu, Greece, July 23, 2023.
In Corfu, firefighters are battling a major forest fire that broke out in the northeast of the island on Sunday, forcing authorities to evacuate several areas as a precaution. The fire affects an area of the island difficult to access, according to the emergency services.
High temperatures and high winds are forecast for Monday.
More than 2,000 people have been evacuated from Corfu, Greek firefighters announced on Monday. Seventeen areas have been ordered to evacuate preemptively, firefighters also said, adding that no property damage has been reported so far.
Holiday company TUI has temporarily suspended new arrivals at affected hotels in Corfu for Monday and Tuesday, due to ongoing forest fires, a TUI spokesperson told CNN in a statement Monday.
TUI said it was following the example of the Corfu fire brigade, which requested “the evacuation of a small number of hotels” and that it is “taking care of the customers of the hotels concerned in an evacuation center near “.
“New TUI arrivals at affected hotels will be contacted directly by our teams and offered alternative options if necessary,” TUI added.
Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni said on Monday that “the situation in Corfu is not alarming”.
“We’ve had a few evacuations of houses, of summer residences, but nothing like the evacuation that’s been happening in Rhodes these days,” Kefalogianni said in a radio interview with the BBC.
Another fire is currently being fought in the southern part of the island of Euboea. The fire broke out on Sunday afternoon and “spread quickly thanks to strong winds”, according to firefighters. Six areas of Euboea have been ordered to evacuate as a precaution.
Euboea suffered significant material and forest damage two years ago when fires tore through the northern part of the island, affecting the local economy.
According to the Greek authorities, several regions of the country were placed on Monday on alert due to the extreme risk of fire.
In Athens, visiting hours for the Acropolis and other archaeological sites have been revised due to rising temperatures. Staff at some sites are on strike to protest working conditions.
“We will probably go through 15 to 16 days of heat waves, which has never happened in our country,” Kostas Lagouvardos, research director at the National Observatory in Athens, told CNN.
He told CNN the streak could last beyond those days, but right now “it’s hard to predict.”
02:37 – Source: CNN
Athens takes measures to protect tourists and citizens from heat wave
The longest continuous heat wave Greece has faced lasted 12 days, in July 1987, Lagouvardos said.
He said temperatures in Athens this summer could possibly beat the city’s all-time record, set in June 2007, when Athens recorded 44.8 degrees Celsius (112.64 degrees Fahrenheit).
Socrates Baltagiannis/picture alliance/Getty Images
A tourist cools off with ice cubes at the entrance to the Acropolis in central Athens.
Large parts of the northern hemisphere have experienced extreme temperatures, with Europe experiencing dramatic changes from one form of extreme climate to another.
The northern region of Italy, Veneto, was pounded by hail the size of a tennis ball Wednesday night, leaving at least 110 injured. Emergency services responded to more than 500 calls for help due to material damage and personal injury, said the regional civil protection of Veneto.
The country has also experienced record heat, with the capital Rome hitting a new high of 41 degrees Celsius on Tuesday. Earlier in the year, Italy was hit by devastating floods.
In the Balkans, severe thunderstorms claimed several lives after hitting Wednesday, CNN affiliate N1 reported Thursday.
Scientists warn that extreme weather may be just a glimpse of what’s to come with global warming.
“Extreme weather events will continue to get more intense and our weather patterns could change in ways we cannot yet predict,” Peter Stott, climate attribution research scientist at the UK Met Office, told CNN.