Hell march on inferno island: How terrified Brits were forced to walk up to eight MILES with their luggage and children to escape Rhodes wildfires in ‘Dunkirk-style’ rescue
- 30,000 people were evacuated over the weekend from areas of the Greek island
- Thousands of tourists fled north and south, walking for hours in scorching heat
- READ: Greece wildfires LIVE: Corfu and Rhodes burn as tourists evacuated
Terrified British tourists were forced to march up to eight miles with their luggage and children in scorching temperatures to escape wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes in a ‘Dunkirk-style’ rescue, they have revealed.
Rhodes – one of Greece’s top destinations for tourists from Britain and Germany – has been turned into ‘hell on earth’ by the ‘out of control’ flames which have torn through the island’s defences.
Fires burning since Wednesday prompted the evacuation of 30,000 people over the weekend as an inferno reached resorts on the southeastern coast.
Thousands marched for 12 hours in 38 degrees Celsius to escape the flames billowing down the mountainside, bearing down on homes and hotels.
Others fought for space on buses and waded neck-high into the Mediterranean Sea to be rescued by small boats operated by locals in scenes likened to Dunkirk.
Many have since spent nights on the airport floor, waiting for repatriation flights, with more evacuations ordered on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, Greek firefighters continue to struggle to contain more than 80 wildfires across the country – 64 of which started on Sunday, the hottest day of the year.
Wildfires continued to burn across the Greek island of Rhodes on Monday, forcing yet more people to flee homes, hotels and resorts on foot walking miles in scorching temperatures
Rhodes has been turned into hell on earth by the raging flames which have torn past the island’s defences
A father carries his daughter to safety on Saturday as hundreds of tourists are evacuated from Rhodes amid a barrage of wildfires
Tourists are seen walking through Rhodes over the weekend as smoke billows into the sky from the on-going wildfires, forcing thousands to evacuate
Fires burning since Wednesday forced the evacuation of 30,000 people over the weekend as an inferno reached coastal resorts on the southeastern coast
Tourists are seen lining up to be evacuated as wildfires break out in Lindos on the Greek island of Rhodes on Saturday
Dramatic footage shows the terrifying moment hundreds of tourists who fled from burning villages in Rhodes were loaded onto boats in a bid for safety
Jodie, 32, and husband Matt, 35, had flown out from Manchester but were forced to quickly run for their lives from the Princess Andriana Resort, cradling their children before jumping on a boat and abandoning their suitcases on the beach.
They had only arrived at the hotel at around 1am on Saturday but within a few hours experienced a sudden power cut before ‘air raid sirens’ sounded and they were told to ‘run to the sea’.
‘We ran to the beach, dragging our cases and the kids. The smoke was thick and black and the heat was immense. We left the cases after a few steps and the baby’s pram,’ Jodie, a mother-of-two originally from Lancashire, said.
‘Out of the smoke a boat then turned up. I had push my daughter through the bars on this boat and then my son. We just wanted our babies to get to safety.
‘They let me on but were shouting it was for women and children only at first. Waiting for Matt nearly tipped me over the edge. We couldn’t breathe and we had towels over our mouths. My daughter was screaming ‘I don’t want to die’.’
Amid scenes of chaos and devastation on the beach, the boat departed and sailed through the thick clouds of smoke before arriving at Lardos Beach.
The heat was an unbearable 43C, Jodie said.
Moving on foot, the family then managed to catch a bus to nearby Lindos before a taxi was able to take them to Faliraki and then on to Rhodos. Luckily, they had kept their passports with them when they abandoned their suitcases.
Some reports have said people have been fighting to get onto buses bound for safer parts of the island, such at its airport in the north.
‘We thought we were safe but then the sirens started again. The fire was literally coming over the hill towards us like some f***ing sea creature.
‘I’ve not seen anything like it. We had to run,’ Jodie added.
‘We finally got a taxi to the airport and the driver tried desperately to find us a hotel for a few hours, to charge our phones and get the kids some sleep.
‘We wanted out, and we managed to switch our flight and we landed in Manchester at 7am this morning (Sunday, July 23).
‘People are traumatised. A woman was pushing her mum in a wheelchair and they’d lost her dad’s ashes which they’d taken to Rhodes to scatter. Another girl had family unable to get on the boats and phones weren’t charged so no idea if they were safe.’
Tourists are seen carrying their suitcases outside a Rhodes hotel in the middle of the night as they evacuate
A mass of tourists are seen walking through Rhodes as they evacuate
Flames and smoke rise as a wildfire burns near the village of Asklipieio, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 24
Flames and smoke rise as a wildfire burns near the village of Asklipieio, July 24
An aerial view shows thick smoke billowing into the sky
The island of Rhodes is left looking post-apocalyptic from the destruction of the fires
A burnt car sits in foreground of a charred area after a fire near the village of Kiotari, July 24
A man walks next to the burnt sunbeds and umbrellas at a beach on the Aegean Sea island of Rhodes, Monday, July 24
Up to 10,000 Britons are estimated to be on the fire-ravaged island
A police officer is silhouetted as a wildfire burns near the village of Asklipieio, July 24
Smoke rises from a wildfire on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 23
Other tourists shared similar experiences, while images have shown the fires left blackened trees and dead animals in the road near burnt-out cars.
Up to 10,000 Britons are estimated to be on the fire-ravaged island.
‘We feared for our lives,’ Joanna Harber from Birmingham told The Times. She said she had been sunbathing when the alarm over the wildfires was raised, kicking off a 12-hour journey to escape the encroaching flames.
‘We walked from then until after it was dark and only made it to the airport at 4am.’
Harber said she had been staying at the Princess Adriana hotel in Kiotari, but joined a mass of tourists forced to walk south to escape the spread of the fires.
She told the newspaper that local people joined the evacuation effort – that resembled a refugee crisis – driving tourists to safety in their own vehicles.
Her friend Katie Fogg, 28, described being able to feel the heat from the flames.
This, combined with the 38-degree heat in the sun, meant it was difficult to breathe.
As much as they wanted to stop, Fogg said, they couldn’t.
‘Every time you turned around you could see the flames coming. You felt like you were just going to collapse,’ she told The Times.
British tourist Kevin Evans was evacuated twice on Saturday with his wife and three young children – first from Kiotari to Gennadi, and then again as the fire approached the island’s capital in the northeast, he told the PA news agency.
‘There were lots of people in Gennadi sent from the hotels – many in just swimsuits having been told to leave everything in the hotel,’ he told PA. ‘As night fell, we could see the fire on the top of the hills in Kiotari. They said all the hotels were on fire.’
‘We are exhausted and traumatised,’ said Daniel-Cladin Schmidt, a 42-year-old German tourist waiting to be evacuated with his wife and nine-year-old son.
‘There were thousands of people, the buses couldn’t pass, we had to walk for more than two hours,’ he told AFP news agency at Rhodes airport.
‘We couldn’t breathe, we just covered our faces and moved forward.’
‘It was quite a bit of a struggle on the beach with the smoke,’ said John Hope, a tourist from Manchester, the Associated Press reported.
‘We ran six miles with all our luggage to escape the flames, while the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius’, said German tourist Lena Schwarz, after arriving at Hanover airport overnight on Sunday.
The 38-year-old told AFP their journey leaving Rhodes was ‘hell on Earth’.
Oxana Neb, 50, also arriving at Hanover, said the evacuation had been ‘very bad’.
‘We stayed in the hotel until the end and fire came from all sides,’ she said.
She joined other guests running to the beach, eventually abandoning her suitcases on the way, she said.
Tourists wait in the airport’s departure hall as evacuations are underway due to wildfires, on the Greek island of Rhodes, July 23
Tourists are sheltered in a sports hall after being evacuated following a wildfire on the island of Rhodes, July 23
Others are sheltered in a stadium after being evacuated
A tourist from Wales waits for departing planes at the airport
The weekend saw some 30,000 people flee their homes from several locations on the island as wildfires burned for a sixth day, Greek authorities said.
The Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was ‘the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country.’
Local police said 16,000 people were evacuated by land and 3,000 by sea from 12 villages and several hotels.
Six people were briefly treated at a hospital for respiratory problems.
Authorities said that a person who fell and broke a leg during a hotel evacuation remained hospitalised, as did a pregnant woman.
Many of the evacuees have been taken to other resorts, filling up spaces such as dining halls and lobbies.
One mother described having to sleep on the floor and being treated ‘like dirt’.
Others spoke of their children suffering from heat exhaustion.
Families who evacuated to Lindos, around eight miles north of Kiotari, had to move for a second times as the fires closed in on the town.
Hundreds of people have been rescued from the beaches by small boats – many operated by locals – to be taken to safer parts of the island.
Malcolm McCarthy, 65, from south London, told The Times: ‘It was like Dunkirk’.
He said he is with 200 others waiting at a sports stadium on the island’s east coast to be evacuated, and compared it to a refugee camp, with toys and other items donated by locals.
Jodie praised the people of Rhodes as ‘heroes’.
‘The people of Rhodes are the heroes here. The boat guys, the guy handing out towels on the beach to protect my babies from the smoke, the free cold drinks when we got off the boat, the bus that stopped in Lardos, the taxi driver in Rhodos, Chris – our amazing taxi driver from the previous night, his local knowledge and reassuring voice notes were a game changer,’ she said.
Evacuees wait to board buses as they leave their hotel during a forest fire on the island of Rhodes, Sunday, July 23
Reports have said people have been fighting to get on to the buses
Tourists are seen before being transported to the airport
Tourists are seen being evacuated off a beach near Lindos, Rhodes, on Saturday
Many tourists are waiting to fly back home from Rhodes International Airport, while anger is growing at tour operators.
Jet2, TUI and Corendon cancelled flights leaving for Rhodes.
Britain’s easyJet 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.
The airline said it will add another repatriation flight on Tuesday.
Ryanair said on Sunday its flights to and from Rhodes were operating as normal.
Paramedic Raith Else told MailOnline: ‘It’s been an absolute s*** show. The local Greek people have been great, but our rep has been rubbish.
‘We were ordered to walk for four miles in the blazing heat on Saturday to a beach and then left stranded for hours.’
Raith, 25, who was on holiday with friend Ryan Gooderham, 23, a teacher, were also staying at the Jet2 Princess Andriana Hotel in the resort of Kiotari in the flame-ravaged south of the island.
But the pair were among hundreds of holidaymakers ordered to prepare for evacuation on Saturday afternoon as the wild-fires spilled down the forested mountain-sides towards them.
Raith explained: ‘We were told there was going to be an evacuation but we weren’t told what to do.
‘We were simply told to wait in the reception until they told us when to run to the beach. We set off at 2.30pm and we had to walk for four miles to the beach.
‘And we were left stranded on the beach until 1.30am.
‘No one from Jet2 came to help us. But local Greek people from the village of Gennadi came out of their houses to help us.
‘They offered us water and food. They did whatever they could for us.
‘Then finally we were put on buses to the airport where we have been stuck ever since. We’ve heard nothing from our Jet2 rep. We’ve heard nothing about a repatriation flight.
‘So we are planning to get the ferry to Kos and get a flight home from there.’
The Jefferson family have told how hundreds of ‘fire refugees’ flooded into their hotel, the TUI Magic Life Hotel, Plimmiri, when they were forced to evacuate.
And now the stranded family – dad Michael Jefferson, daughters Oliva, 15, and Amelia, seven, and son Oscar, six, from Burconpidsen, near Hull, are planning an epic trains, planes, and automobiles journey via Cyprus and France to get home.
Joanna Hughes, her husband Jon Hughes and their daughter Emilia, from Murton, County Durham, had to walk four miles to escape the wildfires in Rhodes
Some families said that they were told to stay put where they were in Rhodes but decided to flee on foot amid the terrifying fires
Hundreds of tourists have been forced to walk miles to safety on the Greek island of Rhodes
Families enjoying the summer holidays were forced to pack their belongings hurriedly as evacuations took place on Rhodes, which has been beset by wildfires
Mr Jefferson said: ‘We came out on holiday on Tuesday. The first two or three days were fine.
‘But on Saturday the electricity was cut as the fires got closer to the hotel.
‘Then hundreds of people from other hotels arrived as they fled from the fires.
‘Our hotel has room for 1,300. But there were 3,000 people stranded there.
‘They were forced to sleep anywhere – on the tennis court, on the sun-beds, in the gardens, everywhere.
‘On Sunday the TUI rep put on us on buses to the airport.
‘But we have been told we don’t have a flight until Tuesday.
‘We’ve been sleeping at the airport since Sunday, so we are going to make our own way home, with help from my brother Neil.
‘We’re going to get a flight to Cyprus, then another flight to Paris and then an Uber to Calais.
‘Neil is driving down from Hull and is going to get the ferry over and pick us up in Calais and take us home.
‘This will certainly be a holiday that we remember. So far the kids are fine, if a bit tired. A lot of people have had it a lot worse.’
In a statement to MailOnline, a TUI spokesman said: ‘Our teams in Rhodes have been working tirelessly to support customers impacted by the wildfires in south-eastern parts of the island, with over 300 reps, drivers and service colleagues doing their utmost to help where the can, alongside the amazing local community and emergency services.
‘We’re now working hard to get everybody home safely with our first passengers returning to the UK on three dedicated flights overnight and plans in place to get everyone affected back as soon as possible.’
The tour operator said it has cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Tuesday, and that passengers due on those flights would be refunded.
A satellite image shows the area affected by wildfires in Rhodes, Greece, July 23
Left: A satellite image shows Rhodes island, Greece, January 2, 2022. Right: A satellite image shows overview of Rhodes wildfires, Greece, July 23, 2023
They added: ‘We appreciate how distressing and difficult it’s been for those who have been evacuated and ask that they continue to follow the advice of the local authorities and keep in touch with the TUI reps who are present in all evacuation centres.’
British travel company Jet2 said it would operate three extra flights on Monday night to bring more of its customers back to the United Kingdom, after wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes left them stranded after they evacuated hotels.
Jet2 said repatriation flights to Manchester, Leeds Bradford and Birmingham would bring about 600 people home, on top of 50 Rhodes to UK services it already has scheduled this week.
The company said it was also flying out more staff to help assist customers who had to flee their resorts and are now camped out in evacuation centres or waiting at the airport.
‘We have a significantly expanded presence in Rhodes, with a huge team of experienced colleagues providing all the support we can for our customers,’ Jet2 said in a statement on Monday.
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 Corfu, Evia, east of Athens, and Aigio, southwest of Athens.
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