Stranded British tourist in Rhodes wildfire chaos says airlines should have halted flights sooner

A mum-of-six stranded in Rhodes due to the wildfires says holiday operators should have stopped flights to the Greek island sooner.

The seven-day blaze has continued to rage on after the fire service warned more fires could break out, with temperatures set to reach 45C.

Helen Tonks, from Cheshire, said she was flown into a “living nightmare” by TUI at 11pm on Saturday 22 July and discovered her hotel had been closed.

She said she and her family were “abandoned” and forced to sleep with hundreds of others on a school floor.

Evacuees sit inside a stadium in Rhodes. Credit: AP

Helen described the decision by airlines to continue their usual service as “inexcusable and negligent – (putting) profit before safety”.

She said: "I feel shellshocked because we had no idea what was going on and no idea about how things were going to be resolved.

"Some people were there after having been evacuated, they have been on holiday here a week or more.

"Others like us had literally just touched down and then moved straight on and some people had harrowing tales, but there was no communication at any point."

Previously the wildfire had been confined to the island’s mountainous centre but, aided by winds, very high temperatures and dry conditions, it spread on Saturday towards the coast on the island’s central-eastern side.

Helen said: "We would never have chosen to come if we had an inkling at all it was like this.

"It's different to be here and get caught up in it but another thing to be flown into this chaos when they must have known our hotel was not available to us - nor was there a backup plan."

Travel firm TUI said holidaymakers have been returning to the UK from the Greek island on “three dedicated flights”.

Two rescue flights with 421 total seats operated by easyJet will arrive later on Monday, with a third scheduled for Tuesday. This is on top of the nine scheduled flights to Rhodes.

Jet2 said a repatriation flight, carrying 95 passengers, landed on Sunday evening before another three leave the island later on Monday.

A map shows the current wildfires in Rhodes. Credit: Google Earth

Helen was full of praise for the Greek people, who have come to their aid.

She said: "It's the locals that have kept us safe, fed and watered. It was so humbling, it took your breath away."

In response, TUI said: "Our teams are working tirelessly to support customers impacted by the wildfires.

"We appreciate how distressing and difficult it's been for those who have been evacuated and ask that they continue to follow the advice of the local authorities and keep in touch with the TUI reps."

This before and after poster shows what happened to the Rodos Princess hotel in Rhodes.

Another couple on holiday in Rhodes, Sandra and Steve McGuire, from Ramsbottom, chose to leave their hotel in Kiotari with their teenage granddaughter as the fire progressed closer to them.

Steve said: "You could see the smoke in the distance and it was just getting closer and closer.

"It was coming over the top of the hotel. The firefighting helicopters were about a kilometre away taking water from the sea and dropping it on the fire in the hills but we realised it was getting closer."

Sandra added: "We have one set of clothes between the three of us, we're very few possessions really but at the time it was just get out with our lives.

"Our granddaughter is upset at things she's left but we have said to her we are alive, they are just possessions."

The Foreign Office have sent a Rapid Deployment Team to Rhodes to support travel operators bringing Britons home.

Minister Andrew Mitchell said: "These situations are always extraordinarily difficult and you are very reliant on the local authorities, the emergency services.

"Britain deployed a team of 10 to the airport to help its citizens. We had 20 requests last night, all of which were dealt with, so in these sort of circumstances I think the British team has done the best they could."

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