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Greece launched the island’s largest evacuation ever this weekend, as nearly 19,000 people moved on Rhodes to escape wildfires that prompted some tour operators to cancel flights to the popular destination.
Evacuees from resorts and villages in the path of the fires were rescued on Saturday and Sunday and given temporary accommodation in schools, convention centers and indoor stadiums, according to Greek authorities.
The sixth consecutive day of wildfires in Rhodes came as a second heatwave hit the region in less than a week, with temperatures expected to reach 45 degrees in certain parts of the country on Sunday, according to the Greek Meteorological Service.
The unprecedented evacuation this weekend included Greek coast guard ships and some 40 private boats that ferried around 3,000 people from the worst-affected southeastern part of the island to safer areas.
“We have between 4,000 and 5,000 people now staying in different buildings,” Rhodes deputy mayor Athanasios Ferinis told Greek television on Sunday, calling for necessities to be donated.
Schools were flooded overnight with evacuees and tourists who had just arrived on the island only to find their hotels and villas unsafe. “There are people who arrive with flights in the middle of the night, and we take them to schools,” said Ferenice. “We don’t have the infrastructure to host much.”
Evacuations took place from 12 villages and several hotels, with no casualties reported. According to government officials, the affected area accounts for about 10 percent of the island’s tourist accommodations.
The Rhodes-bound passengers were found on Saturday evening in evacuation centers shortly after their arrival on the island. “Why did you take us and hundreds of other people there when bushfires cut through the hotels? Totally irresponsible.” Jess Baileya British tourist in an angry tweet directed at tour operator TUI.
Tour operators Jet2 and TUI have canceled flights departing to Rhodes on Sunday. “We appreciate the inconvenience and difficulty of the evacuees,” Toye said on Sunday. “The safety and well-being of our customers and teams remains our top priority.”
Jet2 has canceled all flights and holidays that were scheduled to depart for Rhodes until July 30, saying, “We think this is the right thing to do for everyone.”
EasyJet said its Rhodes flights are still operating, but passengers scheduled to fly between now and July 29 can move to a later date or get a flight voucher, while some holidays have been cancelled.
“We know that the situation for many currently in Rhodes is very difficult, so we are doing everything we can to help customers and provide assistance,” EasyJet said on Sunday.
Ryanair said Sunday morning that its flights to the island were still “operating as normal and not affected by the bushfires”.
Greek officials said mass evacuations became possible after the country introduced a system in 2019 that sends an emergency notification to all mobile phones in the affected area.