Repatriation flights head for Greece as wildfires force tourists to flee
RHODES, Greece (Reuters) – Wildfires burned across Greece on Monday, forcing people to be evacuated from a beach on the island of Corfu while tourists crowded an airport on Rhodes after thousands fled hotels and resorts at the weekend.
Fires burning since Wednesday on Rhodes forced the evacuation of 19,000 people over the weekend as an inferno reached coastal resorts on the island’s southeastern coast.
Rhodes and Corfu are among Greece’s top destinations for tourists mainly from Britain and Germany.
“We are in the seventh day of the fire and it hasn’t been controlled,” Rhodes Deputy Mayor Konstantinos Taraslias told state broadcaster ERT.
Tourists spent the night on the airport floor, waiting for repatriation flights.
“It was quite a bit of a struggle on the beach with the smoke,” said John Hope, a tourist from Manchester, England.
Tour operators Jet2, TUI and Corendon cancelled flights leaving for Rhodes. Britain’s easyJet (EZJ.L) said on Sunday it was operating two repatriation flights on Monday from Rhodes to London’s Gatwick airport in addition to the nine flights already operating between the island and Gatwick.
The airline said it will add another repatriation flight on Tuesday.
Ryanair (RYA.I) said on Sunday its flights to and from Rhodes were operating as normal. Its Chief Financial Officer Neil Sorahan said the airline was monitoring the situation on Monday.
“We have a lot of customers there who want to get home. We’re not going to leave them behind so we’ll travel back in and out,” he said.
“It’s not necessary at this period in time (to put on more flights), we’re letting people book onto earlier flights.”
Evacuations by sea were underway on Corfu, where about 59 people were evacuated from a beach on Sunday. Footage from the island showed the skyline ablaze from fires in a mountain region.
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On Rhodes, some holidaymakers said they walked for miles in scorching heat to reach safety. The fires left blackened trees and dead animals lay in the road near burnt-out cars.
Greece is often hit by wildfires during the summer months but climate change has led to more extreme heatwaves across southern Europe.
Temperatures over the past week have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many parts of the country and were forecast to persist in the coming days.
Emergency services were also dealing with fires on the island of Evia, east of Athens, and Aigio, southwest of Athens.
Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens, Michele Kambas in Nicosia and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Janet Lawrence