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14 June, 2024
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Corfu wildfires spark mass evacuation

Corfu and second island engulfed in chaos

Source: Sky News

Sea evacuations have begun from a beach in Corfu to transport individuals fleeing wildfires on the Greek island - as scores of Britons await repatriation flights out of Rhodes.

Around 59 people have been evacuated from Nissaki Beach on the northwest coast, the Greek Coast Guard said.

The evacuation involved six coast guard vessels and nine private vessels.

"It just felt like chaos"

It comes as the first repatriation flights are due to arrive to get hundreds of British holidaymakers out of Rhodes, another island where one of the largest evacuations in Greek history has taken place.

Tourists and residents huddled in schools and shelters on Sunday in Rhodes, with many evacuated on private boats from beaches as flames menaced resorts and coastal villages.

Scores of others were forced to spend the weekend sleeping rough on beaches, pool sun loungers, or on the streets.

A total of approximately 19,000 people have been rescued from the island.

Greece's Emergency Communications Service published evacuation orders for some areas of Corfu after reports of wildfires.

People in the areas of Santa, Megoula, Porta, Palia, Perithia, and Sinies on the island were told to leave on Sunday evening.

TUI also advised individuals set to stay at specific hotels in Corfu on the 24 or 25 July to not travel to the airport.

"If you're staying at the TUI Blue Atlantica Nissaki Beach, Pantokrator, Golden Mare, La Riviera, or Nautilusue then we advise not to travel to the airport. Other hotels are operating as normal," it said in a statement on Sunday.

Tour operators Jet2, TUI, and Correndon have canceled flights leaving for Rhodes in the next few days.

Travel agent Thomas Cook canceled some upcoming holidays and is offering other customers full refunds should they wish to cancel their trips.

While easyJet has said it is laying on two repatriation flights from the island on Monday, in addition to the nine flights they already operate between Rhodes and the UK - providing 421 extra seats to get people out.

The airline also pledged to run another repatriation flight back to the UK on Tuesday and promised to keep the situation under review.

The flames have left trees black and skeletal and the roads around the island littered with dead animals and near burnt-out cars.

Six people were briefly treated at a hospital for respiratory problems.

A person fell and broke a leg during a hotel evacuation, and a pregnant woman was taken to hospital. The pregnant woman is in good condition, authorities said.

Temperatures are expected to drop below 40C on the island on Monday but remain in the high 30s.

There is no rain forecast for the next week.

The fire brigade said 19,000 people were moved from homes and hotels, calling it the biggest safe transport of residents and tourists Greece has ever carried out.

Speaking to Sky News at Rhodes Airport, tourist Tom Mitchell recounted how he and his friend Natalie Taylor were evacuated from their hotel.

He said: "We were at the hotel yesterday and there was lots of smoke. It got to one o'clock this morning and we had an evacuation notice come through on our phones to leave.

"It just felt like chaos."

Eventually, a coach arrived and took them to a school in the city.

He praised the locals for all the help offered to strand tourists as he and Ms. Taylor sat in the airport, waiting for their flight home.

Another British family spent a night sleeping on the floor of a school after being evacuated from a wildfire on Rhodes.

Coast guard vessels and private boats carried more than 3,000 tourists from beaches on Saturday after the wildfires, which have burned for nearly a week, rekindled in the southeast of Rhodes.

Other parts of Greece's third most populated island were not affected.

Olga Kefalogianni, Greece's tourism minister, told Sky News "Overall, the island is functioning very well".

She praised locals for showing "solidarity" with tourists affected by the fires.

Nevertheless, areas popular with many tourists were badly hit.

Many people fled hotels when huge flames reached the seaside villages of Kiotari, Gennadi, Pefki, Lindos, Lardos, and Kalathos.

Crowds gathered in streets under an orange sky while smoke hung in the air.

In Lindos, famed for an acropolis on a massive rock within medieval walls, a blaze charred the hillside and buildings.

Thanasis Virinis, a vice mayor of Rhodes, told Mega television on Sunday that between 4,000 and 5,000 people were in temporary accommodation, calling for donations of essentials such as mattresses and bedclothes.

Among the nationalities of tourists affected by Rhodes were French, Dutch, and Germans, as well as Britons.

One hotelier said the island can receive 150,000 visitors at a time in peak season. The resident population of the island is around 125,000.

As crowds filled Rhodes airport, the Greek foreign ministry said it was setting up a helpdesk for people who had lost travel documents.

A UK government spokesperson said: "We are actively monitoring the fires in Rhodes and are in close contact with local authorities.

"The FCDO has deployed a Rapid Deployment Team (RDT) of five FCDO staff and four British Red Cross responders to Rhodes to support British Nationals, whose safety is our top priority.

"They will be based at Rhodes International Airport to assist with travel documents and liaise with Greek authorities and travel operators on the ground.

"British nationals in Rhodes should contact their travel operator in the first instance for any queries regarding the rescheduling of flights and continue to check our updated gov. uk travel advice for information."

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