It was supposed to be an ordinary vacation day for 16-year-old Carla and her family. After a week in a large hotel in Kiotari, in the south-east of the Greek island of Rhodes, the French have just finished their suitcases and are enjoying their last hours on the island before the arrival of their bus for the airport this Saturday July 22. The day before, they received "a few ashes" from the fire that has been raging since the start of the week inland, while an exceptional heat wave is suffocating the country. All that seemed far away, the firefighters were mobilized with canadairs and helicopters, and no one at the hotel was worried.
But this morning, at breakfast, Carla notices that “the sky has turned orange”. She goes out to take a picture. The wind turned, and the flames suddenly approached the seaside resort wedged between the sea and the mountains. "At that time, I noticed that the hotel next door was starting to catch fire," she told Le Figaro. The family gathers their luggage and decides to leave when the establishment triggers the alarm to evacuate its customers. “We were made to come out the back, giving us towels and bottles of water.” But impossible to leave, the road is blocked.
Carla recalls the "general panic" as no instructions were given for evacuation. “There were women with babies, old people…” Other tourists have already started to flee on foot, the family follows them. "We had to walk 7 kilometers with 20 kg suitcases under our arms," she says. People were screaming, some were crying because they had left everything behind.” Many were returning from the beach and did not have time to go back to their room to get some belongings or even their papers.
"There were thousands of people going up this road, without knowing where we were going to land," says the young woman, who describes the incessant buzzing of helicopters going back and forth between the sea and the fire. “We could see the smoke following us, we couldn't stop…” The family had to leave two pieces of luggage on the way. It is locals who end up organizing the evacuation, mobilizing trucks and utilities to transport tourists and bringing water. Carla and her family find themselves in a school, "without water or electricity", then manage to climb on a bus for the airport. Alas, their flight has already left.
This Sunday afternoon, the French family is still at the airport, where they have already spent a night. The flights to Paris are full “and easyJet is not helping us, for them it is we who missed the flight”, breathes Carla, who evokes a possible departure for Crete from where a plane could bring them back to France. At Rhodes airport, "we are hundreds, all sitting on the ground, without any support," explains the young woman. Some tourists "lend each other clothes", others were able to return to their hotel to look for business. Carla's burned down. "The authorities did not take care of us", says the young woman, who salutes "the enormous support of the population".
According to the Greek authorities, 30,000 people were evacuated from their hotels or residences on Saturday, including several thousand by sea, in what they describe as the “largest evacuation operation ever carried out” in the country. The fire, which is on its sixth day this Sunday, is still not under control. Several airlines and tour operators have announced that they will suspend their flights to the island of Rhodes, but send planes to repatriate shipwrecked tourists.