Thousands of Britons rescued from Rhodes as flights continue arriving in UK

Holidaymakers spoke of their ‘traumatic’ and ‘miserable’ experiences, having to leave their hotels and sleep in schools, airports and sports centres.

Ted Hennessey
Tuesday 25 July 2023 20:10 BST
People have been evacuated from hotels in Rhodes as fires sweep through parts of the Greek island (Ian Murison/AP)
People have been evacuated from hotels in Rhodes as fires sweep through parts of the Greek island (Ian Murison/AP)

Thousands of Britons have been rescued from fire-ravaged parts of Rhodes, with more facing their summer holidays being cancelled.

Repatriation flights landed in the UK overnight and on Tuesday as holidaymakers spoke of their “traumatic” experiences being evacuated from hotels and sleeping in schools, airports and sports centres on the Greek island.

As many as 10,000 Britons are estimated to be in Rhodes, the Foreign Office said, with 30,000 due to head there in the next few weeks, according to The Times.

Holiday operators continued to cancel flights and holidays, meaning thousands could have their getaway plans scuppered.

The Foreign Office has not formally advised people not to travel to the island and is advising those planning to travel to any areas affected by wildfires to check with their travel operator.

Many travel firms continued to fly Britons to the Greek island, claiming many parts remain unaffected.

Consumer champion Which? said some travel firms had “dragged their feet” and left holidaymakers to choose between travelling to a natural disaster zone or losing money.

It said: “Some companies dragged their feet on updating flexible booking policies, forcing them to choose between travelling into a natural disaster zone, or sensibly cancelling and losing their money as a result.

“Without a Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office warning against travel to the affected regions, travellers who don’t want to go but are refused flexibility to rebook are likely to be left holding the bill for acting sensibly, and will be unable to claim on their travel insurance.”

It urged holidaymakers due to visit the island in the coming weeks not to cancel now as they may not get a refund.

Thomas Cook said holidaymakers who “choose to do so” continue to arrive in other parts of the island while easyJet said it had only cancelled package holidays to affected areas of the island.

The airline operated two repatriation flight from Rhodes to the UK on Tuesday on top of six regular flights that were already scheduled.

It is advising customers to check the status of their flight online and holidaymakers travelling there can, until July 29, put their flight back for free to another date or request a flight voucher.

An easyJet pilot warned 37 passengers on a 180-capacity plane heading to Rhodes from Gatwick that it was a “bad idea” to travel to the island, BBC Wales reported.

However, Michael Gove said he plans to holiday on the Greek island of Evia, insisting the region is safe to visit.

The Housing Secretary told Times Radio: “I’m due to go on holiday, God willing, to Greece in just over a week’s time – not to Rhodes but to another island – and I’m looking forward to going.

“Greece is a wonderful country, a wonderful place to holiday, and we do need to support the Greek government in dealing with the situation in Rhodes.

“My heart goes out to those who are affected but the advice is clear – if you follow the Foreign Office advice it is safe.”

Holiday firm Jet2 said it had cancelled all flights and holidays to Rhodes until Sunday and around 1,000 Britons in affected areas have either flown home or moved to hotels in unaffected parts of the island.

It said it will make a decision on what happens beyond Sunday in the coming days.

Tui had carried out five repatriation flights by Tuesday morning and has cancelled all flights to Rhodes up to and including Friday, with holidays scrapped for those going to affected hotels before and on Sunday.

It is just devastation over there. You plan for these holidays, and it just feels like a real rubbish long weekend away

Mark Payton

Travel firms have increased numbers of staff based on the island.

A newlywed couple spending their honeymoon on Rhodes said they were taken out of their hotel amid “intense” smoke and the sound of a child screaming “I don’t want to die”.

Claire and Paul Jones, both 36, from Leicestershire, were moved on Saturday by coach from the Village Rhodes Beach Resort near Lardos.

Mrs Jones told the PA news agency: “It was really quite traumatic driving to where we went because you could see everyone fleeing their hotels, and people were walking along the beaches, walking along the roads, and they had babies and small children.”

Mark Payton, from Bristol, criticised tour operator Tui and said his family had managed to get back to the UK only after taking a ferry from Rhodes to Kos and then finding a flight to their home city.

He told PA: “It is just devastation over there. You plan for these holidays, and it just feels like a real rubbish long weekend away.”

Another man who landed at Bristol Airport with his young family said: “Miserable. Worst week ever.”

You could just see the fire coming towards us. It was really frightening

Clare Gorick

Mother-of-two Clare Gorick, 46, said she, her husband James and sons Harry, 13 and Wilfie, 10, spent just two hours at a villa they had booked.

Mrs Gorick, from Ely in Cambridgeshire, told PA: “We went out to the supermarket and then weren’t allowed back so we had to stay in an apartment in the city on the first night, and then we were told we could go back, which we did, but we were only there for an hour, there was smoke everywhere, ash everywhere, and then we heard sirens and police shouting for us to get out again.

“And you could just see the fire coming towards us. It was really frightening, a huge amount of smoke.

“At one point you couldn’t see any of the mountains in the distance because the smoke was so bad and then the flames, once it got dark you could see the flames.

“Lots of locals were really upset. There was lots of tears, people crying as they were driving off.

“Hundreds of coaches coming towards us to pick up people from the villages, they were absolutely packed.

“I’ve just sat next to somebody on the plane who said their hotel burnt down and they were sleeping in a hotel lobby for three nights and her mother had ended up in hospital because of smoke inhalation.

A couple from Norwich were forced to flee a wedding party on Rhodes on Saturday.

Dominic Doggett, 30, and his fiancee, Hannah Dolman, 28, arrived at Gatwick Airport on Monday having stayed on the floor of an office in a hotel after the wedding reception came to an “abrupt end”.

A family from Dorset were forced to sleep at a primary school on the island after ash began falling on the outdoor furniture at the villa where they were staying.

Martin Bowrey, 55, Victoria Bowrey, 51, and Hayden Bowrey, 19, left the villa in Lindos after getting an alert on their phones, and slept on “slabs” in the school courtyard.

Sarah George, 39, told of her “worry” after opening a bar on the island just a few weeks before the wildfires ht.

Ms George, originally from Edinburgh, opened the La Presidenta in Lindos with her partner Dimitris Savvaidis in mid-July after “a lot of setbacks”.

She told PA: “Things were going beautifully and now this has all happened.

“Obviously this is less than ideal, it’s a worry about what’s going to happen in the years to come.”

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