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Home ยป Rhodes Fires: Locals Step In To Help Tourists As Rescue Flights Are Due

Rhodes Fires: Locals Step In To Help Tourists As Rescue Flights Are Due

Image source, Caryn Savazzi

Image caption, Caryn Savazzi and her son marking the beginning of their holiday in Cardiff Airport

By Rozina Sini & Jasmine Andersson & Charlene Anne Rodrigues

BBC News

A British family taken in by a local family when their hotel in Rhodes was evacuated say it has “restored their faith in human kindness”.

Caryn Savazzi from South Wales arrived on the island with her husband and sons on Saturday, unaware their hotel had already been evacuated amid wildfires.

They were taken to a school, where a local family offered them shelter.

The first repatriation flights to take Britons back home are due to arrive on the island later.

EasyJet will operate two rescue flights with a total of 421 seats on Monday, and a third on Tuesday, in addition to its nine scheduled flights to the Greek island.

Britons caught up in the evacuations have also begun arriving back in the UK on scheduled flights.

It comes as authorities on Corfu have started evacuating parts of the island, which is also popular with British tourists, after wildfires spread there on Sunday.

The Foreign Office says a five-strong rapid deployment team is now in Rhodes, along with four Red Cross workers, to assist British nationals and support travel operators in bringing people home.

It has advised those affected by wildfires to follow emergency service guidance and to call 112 if there is immediate danger.

British holidaymakers have described being stuck in a nightmare for yet another night.

Many were forced to flee their hotels over the weekend as fires spread from the centre of the Greek island towards its eastern coast, where many resort hotels are situated.

Some tourists ended up in other parts of the island, but with hotels at capacity, others have had to sleep on mattresses in sports halls, conference rooms and in some cases, the street.

Image caption, Officials estimate 19,000 have been evacuated by land and sea with more people due to be evacuated from three villages – Pefki, Lindos, Kalathos

Rhodes has been battling fires fanned by strong winds since Tuesday and roughly 19,000 people have so far been evacuated from the path of the blaze.

The situation worsened over the weekend as planes brought in even more tourists, including Ms Savazzi.

Speaking to the BBC, she said tourists had been offered food, shelter and water by local volunteers – who were even hugging distressed holidaymakers as they arrived.

She said she, her husband and two young sons had been preparing to sleep on a school floor when a volunteer told her a local couple had space for a family of four in their home.

“A man took us back to his house, where his wife was still up at 2.30am, making up the sofa for us so we could sleep.

“The couple are in their early 50s and their two daughters are travelling at the moment. They thought ‘we’ve got space, let’s help out’. They’re clearly incredibly kind people,” she added.

Image source, Caryn Savazzi

Image caption, Ms Savazzi took a photo of the crowds of stranded tourists as they arrived into Rhodes

Ms Savazzi and her family are sharing the home with two other stranded families from Germany and Poland that the couple have taken in.

“An English family have also been taken in by the family’s cousins, who live next door,” Ms Savazzi said.

“We are all mucking in, and we made breakfast together this morning. I love how five nationalities have come together to help each other out.

“It’s just sheer luck we have got the room, and this family have been just wonderful with us.”

Ms Savazzi said the family’s behaviour was “in stark contrast” to travel operator Tui, who she said had sent only “a couple of generic messages” six hours apart.

“Families were being evacuated yesterday so our plane should never have taken off to come into a disaster zone.

“It’s absolutely awful, but we consider ourselves to be the lucky ones.”

Another evacuated tourist, Leigh Mitchell, said his family were taken in by a local resident after space at a nearby hostel ran out.

Mr Mitchell, from Birmingham, told the BBC: “Luckily we met a local Greek man and we are now at his house about to eat octopus and rice.

“If it wasn’t for him I really don’t know what we would have done.”

Tui said its staff were doing “all they can” to help those affected by the fires.

Image source, Reuters

Image caption, One of the sports halls in Rhodes was cleared to accommodate stranded holidaymakers on Saturday night

Greece’s fire service has warned the situation could worsen as further villages require evacuation.

Deputy mayor of Rhodes, Athanasios Vyrinis warned people were being forced to sleep in cardboard boxes and said there were not enough essentials.

Despite the situation on the ground, flights to the island have continued to operate.

Tour operator Thomas Cook said customers booked to travel to Rhodes on Sunday and Monday “have still been keen to enjoy their holiday” as most areas of the island remain open.

It has offered to cancel and refund trips for customers due to fly to Rhodes on Tuesday 25 July, should they no longer wish to travel.

But Tour operator Jet2 has cancelled all flights and holidays due to depart to Rhodes in the next seven days, while and Tui has cancelled all its flights until Wednesday.

Image source, Connie Woods

Image caption, Connie Woods said there has been no communication from Tui

But some British holidaymakers complained about the lack of communication from holiday providers.

Connie Woods, 18, from Newry, Northern Ireland, was sheltering in a school for a second night on Sunday after being evacuated from the Pefki Island hotel.

A Tui rep visited the school but Ms Woods told the BBC their response to her questions had been “no information at this time”.

Ms Woods said there were already hundreds staying at the school, with more arriving. “It’s getting quite crowded,” she said.

“So many young children, families with no luggage, newborn babies. It’s awful.”

Nicola McCullen, 46, from Kilmarnock, slept on a mattress in the street after arriving late on Saturday on a Tui flight from Glasgow to Rhodes.

She said she would be sleeping in an empty school on Sunday as she had not heard anything from the holiday firm.

“We haven’t had a proper meal, the locals bring around water. Tui has said nothing,” she told the BBC.

A Tui spokesperson said its teams were “following advice from the local authorities”.

“A small number of hotels have been impacted and as a precaution we’re relocating affected customers and providing them with alternative accommodation.

“Our main priority is always the safety of our customers and we’ll continue to keep a close eye on the situation.”