Locals step in to help tourists after Rhodes fires

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A Welsh family who were taken in by Greek locals when their holiday hotel was evacuated in the Rhodes wildfires said it had “restored their faith in human kindness”.

Caryn Savazzi travelled to the island with her husband and sons on Saturday, unaware that their hotel had already been evacuated amid the blaze.

They were taken to a local school, where they were offered a place to stay in a local family’s home.

But other Britons remain without a bed.

Many were forced to flee their hotels as the wildfires continued to spread from the centre of Greek island towards its eastern coast where many of the beaches and resort hotels are situated.

Rhodes has been battling wildfires fanned by strong winds since Tuesday and after smoke started enveloping tourist areas, roughly 19,000 people were evacuated from the zone in the path of the fire.

A further 1,200 will be evacuated from three villages - Pefki, Lindos and Kalathos.

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

Some holidaymakers ended up at hotels in other parts of the island, but with many hotels at capacity, other people had to source emergency accommodation, sleeping on mattresses on the floors of sports halls, basketball courts and conference rooms.

And the situation worsened on Saturday evening as planes brought in even more tourists – including like Ms Savazzi, whose hotel had already been evacuated before the family had even arrived.

Holiday company Jet2 has now cancelled five flights to Rhodes, while Tui cancelled all flights there until Wednesday.

Thomas Cook has taken a different approach, and said customers booked to travel in Rhodes on Sunday and Monday “have still been keen to enjoy their holiday” as most areas of the island remain open.

But for customers due to travel to other parts of Rhodes on Tuesday 25 July it is offering to cancel and issue a full and swift refund should they no longer wish to travel.

Meanwhile, EasyJet says it will operate extra flights to bring British holidaymakers home. Two flights will leave on Monday, with 421 seats available in total, and a third on Tuesday in addition to its nine scheduled flights.

Ms Savazzi, from South Wales, said some volunteers were even offering cuddles to distressed tourists as they arrived through Saturday night, as well as supplying them with food, shelter and water.

She said she, her husband and two young sons were preparing to sleep on a school floor when a volunteer came in to ask if there was any family of four among those sheltering in the school.

She told the BBC: “My husband put his hand up. We were the only family of four there.

“The volunteer said a local family had space for us in their home. Now we are staying with them near Rhodes.

“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.

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

“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.”

She said the family’s behaviour was “in stark contrast” to travel operator Tui, who have sent “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.

“Instead there should have been empty planes taking people out of there, not plane loads arriving.

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

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

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

The Welsh family are among a number taken in by locals after they were evacuated from hotels destroyed – or at risk of being destroyed – by the wildfires.

At least three hotels have been destroyed in the dense forest area of Kiotari on the east of the island.

Leigh Mitchell and his family were taken in by a local Greek man after they were told they was no space at a nearby hostel after their hotel was evacuated.

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.”

While tourists stuck on the island are getting by on makeshift mattresses in conference rooms, and in some cases, on the streets, travel operators have made the decision to cancel incoming flights to Rhodes over the next few days.

The deputy mayor of Rhodes, Athanasios Vyrinis said some people had slept in cardboard boxes overnight and warned that there were not enough essentials.

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

The Foreign Office, which has flown a five-strong rapid deployment team and four British Red Cross workers to Rhodes Airport to assist British nationals, advises travellers affected by the wildfires to follow the guidance from emergency services and to call 112 if there is immediate danger.

The British ambassador to Greece said a “rapid deployment team” had been sent by the Foreign Office to help British tourists.

Some British holidaymakers will endure another night in makeshift shelters in the absence of any communication from their holiday providers.

Connie Woods said holiday providers have not been communicating

Connie Woods said there has been no communication from Tui

Connie Woods, 18, from Newry, Northern Ireland, said she will be sheltering in a school for a second night. She was previously staying at the Pefki Island hotel before it was evacuated on Saturday.

A Tui rep visited the school earlier but when Ms Woods asked some questions, their response was that “they have no information at this time”.

Ms Woods said there were already hundreds staying at the school and more would be arriving tonight. “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 night on a Tui flight from Glasgow to Rhodes.

She said that tonight she will be sleeping in an empty school as she has not heard from the holiday company Tui.

Ms McCullen’s partner had taken her away on holiday to celebrate her getting a new job.

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

“The ants are crawling all over my mattress,” she said, still waiting to hear what will happen next.

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.”

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