July 15, 2024
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By Helena Smith 
Fires also rage on the islands of Evia and Corfu, prompting Kyriakos Mitsotakis to warn parliament that difficult times lie ahead

During Rhodes’ chaotic evacuation of tourists, Greece is at war with fire

As blazes rage on Evia and Corfu islands, Kyriakos Mitsotakis warns parliament that difficult times are ahead

Despite scenes of pandemonium caused by the nation’s largest ever evacuation of tourists on inferno-stricken Rhodes, firefighters struggled to contain wildfires across Greece for a seventh straight day.

Many fires were fought around the clock with the help of water-dropping planes. According to the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the country was in a war with fire, but efforts were focused on dousing fires raging on Evia and Corfu, as well as Rhodes.

As long as the conditions remain hard, this battle will continue to be uneven, the centre-right leader said.

“We find ourselves at war with fire,” he added, warning of “three difficult days ahead.”

As wind-whipped infernoes raged across parched soil, authorities ordered people to evacuate hotels and homes.

Overnight, 2,466 residents fled 17 villages along Corfu’s northern coast, an area popular with villa-owning Britons, and hundreds fled communities in Evia.

Officials described the evacuation as the biggest in Greek history, with 19,000 people – mostly tourists – moving across land and sea to the island’s north due to incoming infernos around resort areas in the south-east of Rhodes.

During the weekend, tourists recounted being transported to beaches in army trucks in the middle of the night before being placed on Greek navy ships in a panicked state.

Most complained about the poor treatment they received from “invisible” tour operators to whom they had paid thousands of pounds to stay in five-star hotels.

As late as Saturday night, when it was clear the fires were raging uncontrollably across a large swath of the island, other British tourists had been flown in by travel companies.

At the weekend, Greece experienced its hottest temperatures in 50 years. The hot, dry, windy conditions are like “super food” for fires.

Due to the human-caused climate crisis, wildfire season has been extended by about two weeks worldwide, resulting in larger burn areas in southern Europe.

Athens civil protection officials said they had little choice but to enact what they called a “precautionary” operation to move tourists off Rhodes due to strong and erratic winds.

“Our priority will always be human life,” Mitsotakis told MPs on Monday, evoking the tragedy of the fires that ravaged the seaside town of Mati, east of Athens, almost five years ago, killing 102 people. Organizing evacuations has become second nature since Mati, he said.

In the coming days, government experts will fly to Rhodes and other fire-hit regions to assess the extent of the disaster – which is expected to be highly costly – so that compensation can begin. Fires are believed to have destroyed countless homes, businesses, and plots of arable land.

At the moment, the focus is on salvaging the image of Greece as a tourist destination.

British tourists now account for the majority of tourists visiting Greece, as most of those evacuated from hotels in Rhodes had arrived from the UK.

Since tourism contributes 25% to the country’s GDP and one in five jobs, the country’s tourism minister, Olga Kefalogianni, on Monday insisted that although fires had broken out on Corfu, the situation was not alarming, while on Rhodes, the damage had been limited to “only a small area.”

Greek army transport planes worked through the night to transfer camp beds, sleeping bags and other vital supplies to Rhodes by late Sunday.

There were thousands of people sleeping rough over the weekend, either at the island’s airport or in makeshift shelters such as schools and conference halls.

Officials hope that what is brought in will make life a little easier for them before they return home.

Many locals offered to host evacuated families in their homes to tourists stranded on Rhodes.

As of 6am on Monday, 1,489 British, German and Italian tourists had been repatriated, Greek government sources said, adding that the departures had eased airport chaos.

In an effort to transport Britons home, Jet2 has scheduled four extra flights for Monday evening.

Global firefighting forces have arrived in Greece to assist in putting out the fires.

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