Tourists and villagers join exodus as ‘traumatic’ wildfires tear across Rhodes | World News

In the Greek village of Massari, on the east coast of Rhodes, they’re clearing out.

A police car drives slowly through the village, an evacuation notice blasting out of loudspeakers on the roof.

This is the final warning – it’s time to leave, the flames are coming. Residents quickly try to protect what they can.

We watch as a woman sprays water onto her business, hoping it may limit the damage.

A neighbour pulls down the shutters with no idea what will be left when they return.

“Can’t you see the smoke? The fire is coming. It’s coming to this village,” says Yorgos, a local resident.

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Within minutes, he will join the exodus.

A continuous line of traffic winds through the streets as people hastily pack what they can.

“Of course I’m afraid. I have small children,” explains Arti, already in his car.

This is the third time the village has been evacuated in three days.

A destroyed house as a wildfire burns in the village of Kiotari, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Lefteris Damianidis NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
A destroyed house in Kiotari

On the mountain behind, we can see the source of the danger. A wildfire is burning vigorously.

Despite the risk, Michalis and a few others have stayed behind to fight.

“We cannot go. We will go straight to the fire because if we leave, everything will burn down,” he says.

On Monday, firefighters on Rhodes were again fighting on several fronts.

Strong winds have been whipping up the flames and increasing the difficulty and danger for the rescue crews.

As we watch, the line of flames shoots up and rapidly makes its way down the mountain.

Firefighter Nektarios Kefalas tries to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village of Asklipieio, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Nicolas Economou
Firefighter Nektarios Kefalas tries to extinguish a wildfire burning near the village of Asklipieio

Firefighters, volunteers and police officers operate as a wildfire burns near the village of Asklipieio, on the island of Rhodes, Greece, July 24, 2023. REUTERS/Nicolas Economou

It’s then we are told to get out as reinforcements from Athens prepare to go in. It’s a repeating pattern.

Our phones constantly buzz with messages telling us another village is being evacuated.

Further along the coast, flames have also broken through defences. Fires are burning again in some of the same tourist resorts where blazes forced people from their hotels at the weekend.

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Fires tear through Rhodes and Corfu

“It has been really traumatic. You could see the whole headland was alight. It was scary,” says Claire Evans.

With bags covered in soot and stinking of smoke, she and her kids have come to the airport to try to grab spots on the first repatriation flights back to the UK.

They’re not alone. Tired bodies cover the floor. People sit, hoping they’ll soon be told there’s a seat on the next flight.

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A satellite image shows a wildfire sweeping across the countryside near the village of Gennadi, Rhodes. Pic: Maxar
A satellite image shows a wildfire near the village of Gennadi, Rhodes. Pic: Maxar

Burned buildings in Kiotari, Rhodes, Greece (24 July, 2023). Source: Maxar
Burned buildings in Kiotari, Rhodes, Greece,. Pic: Maxar

At the government support kiosk, we meet Jack. He is getting advice on what to do next after the airline he booked with has failed to get him home.

He was meant to leave on Saturday. Like many, he’s furious with the tour operators.

“It’s absolutely shocking. Regardless of whatever’s happening, you should get some representative to speak to you and advise you.

“We have had no one. We have literally just been left on our own,” he says.

Hundreds more tourists continue to wait in makeshift shelters, wondering if the next firefront will mean they will have to move again.

Their belongings abandoned in the blackened resorts which they fled from.

This disaster has already left its mark on Rhodes, the first scars from a wildfire season which is only just beginning.

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