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The airport of Rhodes, in Greece, turned into a camp by the fires

The airport of Rhodes, in Greece, turned into a camp by the fires

The Rhodes airport looked like a makeshift camp on Monday because of the fire that is raging through part of the Greek island, with seasonal workers resting on beach towels and the chairs occupied by tourists still in swimsuits.

In the departure hall of the international airport, many travelers, waiting to be able to return to their countries, explain how they were evacuated from hotels or their vacation homes on the shores of the Aegean Sea “in nightmare conditions.”

Among them is Daniel-Cladin Schmidt, a 42-year-old German who came on vacation with his wife and 9-year-old son to spend a few days in Kiotari, a region in the southeast of this Dodecanese island, affected by the flames.

“We are exhausted and traumatized,” he tells AFP. “I think we just didn’t realize what happened,” she adds. As soon as the alarm at his hotel went off, they were “evacuated to the beach,” he says.

“There were thousands of people, the buses couldn’t pass, we had to walk for more than two hours (…) We couldn’t breathe, we covered our faces to move forward. It’s a miracle,” he says excitedly.

“No Evacuation Plan”

With 2.5 million visitors in 2022, Rhodes is one of the top destinations in the country.

On Saturday and Sunday, some 30,000 people were evacuated as a precaution against the advance of the flames, in what firefighters say was the largest operation ever carried out in Greece.

With plastic sandals and a ribbon in their hair, Audrey and Marylin, who prefer not to say their last names, also wait in the lobby of the airport, located in the northwest of the island, off the Turkish coast.

The two Nigerians, aged 19 and 20, live in Budapest and this summer they were working as seasonal workers in a hotel in Lindos, one of the most visited places in Rhodes, known for its ancient Acropolis.

“We knew there were fires but they seemed far away. And suddenly everything changed,” says Audrey. According to her, “no particular evacuation plan was put in place.”

For her part, Marylin describes the screaming and crying, the tension that seized the clients and the hotel staff.

“We were very afraid. We left on our own feet,” says the young woman, in front of the water and snack distribution points arranged by the airport staff.

Like so many others, they will have to fend for themselves to get back home.

Neither hungry nor thirsty

Several European countries set up, on Sunday night, consular guards at the airport to assist their nationals.

“Things are improving but many planes are full so you have to be patient. The situation should normalize in a few days,” says a representative of the French consulate there, requesting anonymity.

“There are tour operators who don’t answer, so some vacationers feel helpless and come to us,” adds the representative.

As most hotels are full, the authorities set up emergency accommodation in public buildings, cultural spaces and gyms.

Hotels, meanwhile, try to solve the most pressing problems.

“We managed the situation as best we could in this gigantic evacuation,” explains Manolis Markopoulos, president of the Rhodes hoteliers’ association. “Everybody is safe and is in safe places today. Nobody is hungry or thirsty,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the fire continued to ravage the island, for the seventh consecutive day.

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