Rhodes: Authorities say 19,000 rescued in Greece's 'largest ever wildfire evacuation'

The UK's two largest tour operators have cancelled all flights to Rhodes, as wildfires continue to ravage the Greek island. ITV News' Anna Geary reports

Greek authorities have confirmed around 19,000 people have been evacuated from Rhodes as wildfires continue to burn on the island for a sixth day.

Greece's Ministry of Climate Change and Civil Protection said it was "the largest evacuation from a wildfire in the country".

Some 16,000 were evacuated by land and 3,000 by sea, according to local officials.

Those brought to safety came from 12 villages and several hotels. No casualties have yet been reported, although six people were briefly hospitalised with respiratory problems.

Jet2 announced it has cancelled all flights that were due to depart to Rhodes on Sunday, while TUI has scrapped all flights and holidays to the island up to and including Tuesday July 25.

Travel expert Simon Calder told ITV News Reporter Joe Coshan he expects 'airlines will come up with policies which will allow people to get refunds or to postpone their trip'

Thomas Cook later announced it had cancelled all holidays to Kiotari and Lardos - the areas of the island most at risk - until Monday July 31.

On Sunday, 266 firefighters and 49 fire engines on the ground were joined by five helicopters and ten airplanes to help put out the flames. A further 15 fire engines are expected to arrive later in the day.

In the mountainous part of Rhodes - an active front of the wildfire - firefighters have been trying to stop the blaze from spreading to nearby dense forests.

Southwest of the resort of Kiotari - the main focus of Saturday's evacuations - a trench was dug to prevent the fire from crossing a narrow waterway and threatening another seaside village, Gennadi.

Wildfires in Rhodes have been triggered by temperatures exceeding 40C and made worse by high winds.

Evacuees sit inside a stadium in Rhodes. Credit: AP

Some British tourists, including Darren Scott, are taking shelter in a basketball court in Faliraki. Others have been accommodated in hotels and gyms.

Mr Scott told ITV News: "We were just sunbathing, as you do on holiday, and then all of a sudden the smoke got a lot worse and we got an urgent message on our phone from the government."

Hotel staff said it was just a precaution, he added, but they advised them to pack a small bag just in case.

"Then another message came through for another area, then we were told to make our way down to the beach," he added.

"The information coming and going was a bit vague at the time, but eventually… we got on a coach and didn't have a clue where we're going."

Tourists were seen boarding busses in Rhodes after the Greek government ordered a mass evacuation of the island

He said they "couldn't have been looked after better" by staff and emergency services and his family are all "doing OK".

Writing on Twitter, one person described escaping the wildfires as the "scariest moment in my entire life", saying he and his family waded into the sea before finding sanctuary on a fishing trawler.

Matthew Lodge, the UK's ambassador to Greece, said a "rapid deployment team" is travelling to Rhodes to offer assistance.

"Since the #wildfires situation deteriorated yesterday @ukingreece has been working with the Greek authorities, airlines and tour operators to support UK nationals on #Rhodes," Mr Lodge tweeted.

The UK Foreign Office has updated its foreign travel advice on the heatwaves and wildfires in Europe.

A man carries a child as they leave the island of Rhodes. Credit: AP

It said: "If you are a British national affected by wildfires in Rhodes, please follow the guidance from the emergency services. Call the Greek emergency services on 112 if you are in immediate danger.

"The Greek government has established a crisis management Unit to facilitate the evacuation of foreign citizens from Rhodes. They can be contacted on +30 210 368 1730. For 24/7 British consular assistance, call +4420 7008 5000.

"If you are planning to travel to Rhodes, please check with your travel operator or hotel prior to travel that the area you plan to visit is not impacted by the current wildfires."

Greece's ministry of foreign affairs has announced that it is coordinating with foreign embassies to assist those who are looking to leave the island.

Large parts of mainland Greece, plus the islands of Evia and Rhodes, have been designated as Category 5 - the highest for risk of fire outbreaks.

A further chunk of Greece has been designated Category 4 - very high risk.

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