Greece moves 30,000 people to safety as Rhodes wildfires rage

AFP , Saturday 22 Jul 2023

Officials on the Greek island of Rhodes said Saturday they had moved 30,000 people threatened by wildfires to safety -- including 2,000 who had to be ferried off beaches.

Greece wildfire
Tourists sit in the back of an open air lorry as they are evacuated during wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes on July 22, 2023. AFP


George Hadjimarkos, regional governor of the South Aegean, told Skai television that the operation, which was still ongoing, had been hampered by fires cutting off some road access.

"The aim is to protect human life," he said.

Tourists and some locals were being taken to gyms, schools and hotel conference centres on the island where they will stay overnight, while firefighters battle the blaze.

Three passenger ferries have been moored at the port of Rhodes to accommodate those rescued, Athens News Agency reported.

Members of the coastguard, the armed forces and local authority workers used dozens of buses to help move people away from the fires, said Rhodes municipality official Teris Hatziioannou.

Where the fires had cut off road access, some tourists had to walk to safety.

Panagiotis Dimelis, head of the Archangelos village council, told Skai TV that many locals had rushed to help the tourists.

"It is an unprecedented situation for the island," he added.

For the beach operation, the coastguard said three of its boats led more than 30 private vessels to pick up people from the Kiotari and Lardos beaches on the east of the Mediterranean island.

A Greek navy boat was also headed to the area to help, according to the coastguard.

Out of control

From the moment the evacuation alert sounded early in the afternoon, tourists headed for the beach, pulling their suitcases behind them.

Local video footage showed some of them pushing strollers carrying small children under the scorching sun.

Some of those seeking rescue had missed their flights off the island after the fires cut off normal transport routes, according to media reports.

Elsewhere, firefighters are still trying to bring the blaze on the island under control.

Deputy Fire Chief Yannis Artopoios said the blaze on Rhodes, which broke out on a mountain in the centre of the island, was the toughest his force had had to face.

Five helicopters and 200 firefighters fought the blaze during the daytime, but the air support was called off as the light failed.

The battle to extinguish the fire in Rhodes continues in the area of Laermon and Lardos, where it is raging out of control.

ERT TV reported that some firefighters were stranded in the Ypseni Monastery, near Lardos, as they tried to convince the nuns living there to leave the area.

But they were reported to be safe.

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