TUI cancels all flights to Rhodes until Friday as holidaymakers tell of five-mile hike to safety as 44C heat imminent

24 July 2023, 17:58

Thousands of people on the Greek island have been evacuated.
Thousands of people on the Greek island have been evacuated. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Jenny Medlicott

Travel firm TUI has cancelled all flights to Rhodes as wildfires continue to ravage the Greek island and repatriation flights are carried out.

Families visiting the Greek island have revealed the horrors of being trapped in Rhodes, as many say they have been left no choice but to sleep rough on mattresses outside while others have been forced to flee from the inferno on foot as the flames continue to ravage their surroundings.

Some 19,000 people were evacuated from the island on Sunday as temperatures climbed close to 40C.

Announcing the flight cancellations on Monday, a spokesman for TUI said: "We have cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Friday 28 July, and have also cancelled all outbound flights for customers travelling to impacted hotels up to and including on Sunday 30th July.

"All customers due to travel on these flights will receive full refunds."

British holidaymakers have told of the horrors of being caught in the blazes on the island, including one mother who revealed the "terrifying" experience of being evacuated from her hotel with her two-year-old daughter, which has since burnt down.

Speaking from a refuge centre on the island, newlywed Andrew Brittan, 27, said the first night of his honeymoon was spent on a mattress outside, which was donated by locals.

Read more: Greece holiday chaos as Foreign Office doesn't alter travel advice - as Rhodes wildfire inferno visible from space

Read more: Europe tourists told to make 'extreme heat plans' as wildfires rage in Greece and nine French regions issue alerts

Read more: 'They knew it was a burning island': Caller furious at airline for letting her travel to Rhodes

Evacuees have been forced to sleep on mattresses outside and in refuge centres.
Evacuees have been forced to sleep on mattresses outside and in refuge centres. Picture: Alamy

Meanwhile, mother Abi James, who was with her husband, two young sons and friends, said they had been told to stay put when the flames broke out nearby, but were eventually forced to flee on foot and walk around five miles to escape the fire as it spread and temperatures soared to 42C, she told the MailOnline.

Amy Leyden, a British tourist, said she didn't think she, her partner and two-year-old child were going to survive their ordeal in Rhodes.

They were rescued from their hotel by police before it collapsed. "We just had to keep running and then the fire was getting closer and it was getting harder to breathe," she said.

They were picked up by a local man, who drove them to the beach, where they found an "awful" sight, she told Sky News.

TUI also said on Monday it is working with its staff to help repatriate its customers, as the travel company flew out six planes to bring families stuck on the island back to the UK as well as residents from other countries affected.

"Our colleagues continue to work around the clock to support the affected guests,” Thomas Ellerbeck, a member of TUI's Group Executive Committee said.

“During the night we have also sent six available aircraft from our fleet directly to Rhodes to pick up guests and fly them back to their home countries.

"Further operations have already been implemented and are planned, we are informing our guests on site and organising all necessary steps."

Families have told of being forced to flee the flames on foot.
Families have told of being forced to flee the flames on foot. Picture: Alamy

British airline Jet2 also announced on Sunday it had cancelled all flights to Rhodes until Sunday July 30 and will be operating repatriation flights for its UK customers.

It comes after Downing Street was forced to defend its decision not to discourage Brits from travelling to the country earlier on Monday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged people affected by the wildfires to try to stay in touch with their holiday operator.

The PM said: "My paramount priority is the safety of British nationals, that's why the Deputy Prime Minister chaired a Cobra meeting yesterday - he's been monitoring the situation closely.

"The most important thing is people remain in touch with their tour operators, there are lots of flights going back and forth to be able to bring people home, and if people are in touch with their tour operators they will get the information that they need."

Repatriation flights are being carried out to return Brits to the UK.
Repatriation flights are being carried out to return Brits to the UK. Picture: Alamy

Greece said its evacuation mission is the largest in its history.

Blazes have already seen hundreds evacuated in the Athens area, where fires are still raging to the west of the capital, and on Evia and Corfu.

Holidaymakers are taken away on boats and over land and put into temporary accommodation elsewhere, some without food or water.

Satellite imagery issued today by Copernicus EU - the Earth monitoring service from the European Union Space Programme, shows the devastation caused by the fires on Rhodes.

Up to 10,000 Britons are estimated to be on Rhodes, with repatriation flights to rescue holidaymakers now landing back in the UK.

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