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17 July, 2024
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Rhodes' heartbreaking farewell

Restaurant owner's struggle for a new beginning

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

Standing outside the blackened shell of what used to be his restaurant, Dimitris Hajifotis laments a livelihood lost to wildfires raging on the Greek island of Rhodes this week.

“My life now stopped,” he said. “Everything is taken by the fire.”

Inside his destroyed business in the coastal village of Gennadi, stacks of plates are covered in ash and debris near a burned-down kitchen.

“I do two jobs. One is the restaurant, the other is that I am a farmer. All my fields, now it’s nothing, just black.”

The wildfires on the Aegean island have been burning for a week, forcing 20,000 people, most of them tourists, to flee in the scorching heat over the weekend, some on foot, others by sea as the nighttime sky turned an apocalyptic orange.

The flames swallowed up trees, burned cars, damaged homes and hotels, and left animals dead in the streets.

About 10% of the island’s land area had burned, according to the Greek state broadcaster ERT, but the scale of the destruction has yet to be officially recorded.

For the residents of Rhodes, which like most Greek islands depends heavily on tourism for jobs and income, the scars run deep.

“I do two jobs. One is the restaurant, the other is that I am a farmer. All my fields, now it’s nothing, just black,” said Hadjifotis, who spent the winter renovating his business.

“We don’t know where to start now. We don’t have money to do something to rebuild the restaurant.”

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who told parliament on Monday that the country was “at war,” pledged to rebuild what was lost and compensate those who were hurt by the fires on Rhodes and elsewhere in the country where blazes have raged uncontrolled.

“We don’t expect anything big. But we wait,” Hadjifotis said. “We want the fire to stop. No other houses to burn, not other restaurants, not other fields,” he said.

Summer wildfires are common in Greece but record temperatures in recent weeks have worsened conditions. A heatwave is forecast to persist this week with temperatures set to exceed 44 Celsius (111.2 Fahrenheit) in some areas.

As more than 2,000 holidaymakers have been flown home to safety since Monday, for the locals left behind, the road to normality will be long.

Lefteris Laoudikos, whose family owns a small hotel in the seaside town of Kiotari, worries the fires will keep visitors away.

Their hotel was ravaged by the blaze, and their father, cousin, and two others spent the night trying to save their property using a nearby water tank as they waited for assistance.

“We were alone,” he said.

Cyprus  |  Rhodes  |  Greece  |  fires  |  restaurant  |  island  |  Aegean

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