Athens, (EFE). – At least 19,000 people, including some 6,000 tourists, have been evacuated on the Greek island of Rhodes to escape a large forest fire, which continues this Sunday out of control due to high temperatures and strong winds.
Of all the evacuees, some 3,000 tourists were transferred to safe places by sea, while the rest, 16,000 people, including another 3,000 tourists, did so by land in an extensive operation that lasted throughout the night, the spokesman for the Fire Department, Yannis Artopiós, told private television SKAI.
The fire has forced the evacuation of 11 towns in the center and east coast of the island, while the flames damaged at least three hotels in the coastal town of Kiotari and burned several houses in the town of Laerma.
Some 270 firefighters with 49 vehicles, five helicopters and ten tanker planes are fighting the flames this Sunday for the sixth consecutive day, amid high temperatures and strong winds.
Thousands of tourists had to spend the night in schools, sports halls or ferries.
In videos published on social networks yesterday, Saturday, lines of several kilometers of tourists can be seen walking, suitcase in hand, towards nearby beaches to be evacuated.
Some have denounced a lack of organization and information on the part of the authorities and stress that they had to walk several kilometers under a strong sun with small children and their belongings to reach the evacuation points.
No injuries have been reported so far, although nine people had to be taken to local health centers with mild respiratory problems due to smoke from the fires.
Tour operators have ordered charter flights to land empty on the island to pick up tourists who want to leave Rhodes. Yesterday, all flights from the island were full, Greek media reported.
Firefighters are battling the flames on three separate fronts, on the west coast and central Rhodes, while the fire has already razed thousands of acres of virgin forest.
“The environment on the island has really been destroyed. The images I see are unprecedented,” Efthímios Lekkas, a professor specializing in Natural Catastrophes, told ERT public television.
The catastrophe is also a severe blow to the economy of Rhodes, whose main engine is the tourism sector.
Greece is experiencing an extreme heat wave, with temperatures topping 44 degrees in central Greece on Saturday, while thermometers are expected to hit 45 degrees today.