British tourists have been begging for help to flee the inferno on the Greek island of Rhodes, as firefighters warn the disaster could worsen.
The island has been battling wildfires since Tuesday, with thousands of people forced to flee homes and hotels on foot as the flames and smoke spread across the popular tourist destination.
British tourists described “terrifying” scenes of turmoil as the five-day fire continues to rage, with power cuts causing “chaos” and an absence of information from travel agencies.
The fire service on the island, Hellenic Fire Corps, said it was the worst crisis the service had dealt with and admitted the situation on the ground was “a mess”.
Fire Service spokesman Yannis Artopios said more wildfires could break out as temperatures are set to reach 45 °C on Sunday.
Pictures showed tourists carrying their children as they fled on foot, as orange smoke filled the skies. Others were seen queuing up for cars to get out of their hotels.
Many tourists have been forced to shelter in schools and gymnasiums as authorities work out how to get them to safety.
Terrified Britons stuck on the island turned to social media in a bid to get support, with some reporting a lack of information from authorities on the ground.
A British playwright said he “left everything at the hotel and fled with towels across our faces”, but hadn’t received any information from local authorities for 12 hours and his youngest child feared they would die.
“Please send help”, he tweeted.
Holidaymakers on the island have claimed they have been left without information and struggling to contact reps in the country.
One Briton said he had left all his possessions behind in his hotel and “had to walk four miles in the heat across dirt tracks in smoke and ash with a five-year-old.”
British travel agents have been criticised for continuing to fly British tourists to the island on Saturday despite the fires.
Private boats have been helping with the evacuation efforts and the Greek Navy is also reportedly heading to the area.
The coastguard and more than 30 private boats evacuated at least 2,000 people from beaches close to the areas of Kiotari and Lardos in the southeastern part of the island, coastguard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told Skai television.
Corinne Watson, 42, who is holidaying with her husband and two sons, told the PA news agency she had only received one automated text message from Tui, telling her they were “sorry for any disruptions”.
The mother-of-two said: “Our hotel has accepted some evacuees and hosted a few while other accommodation was found. Power losses affecting the kitchens has caused chaos but hotel staff are working exceptionally hard to manage the situation – they must be very worried for their island.
“Hotel staff [are] working flat out under desperate worry.”
However, she said Tui had offered a “poor service” with no information on whether her area was safe or what to do in the event of an evacuation.
Ms Watson, a local government worker from Cumbria, added: “Today the sky has rarely been blue and we have had the water planes above us frequently collecting from the sea. Getting information is very difficult. Currently we are lucky, in a lovely hotel and hope it stays that way.
“For others, both tourists and locals, it is awful and terrifying. I hope they bring them under control quickly with limited damage.”
In previous days the wildfire was 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.
Local media reported the fires had reached three hotels, which had already been evacuated, while three coast guard vessels, plus one from the army, were evacuating people from two beaches.
Thomas Cook said 40 of its customers were at hotels in Lardos and Kiotari – the areas most affected by the fire.
A spokesman for Thomas Cook said: “We are monitoring closely the wildfires in Rhodes and are in touch with our customers who are on holiday there.
“Our teams are in regular contact with our holidaymakers on the island currently as well as those about to depart to discuss their options.”
There will be a brief respite in the heatwave on Monday, but it will resume on Tuesday and could last until at least Friday, meteorologists have said.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly tweeted: “The safety of British Nationals is our top priority. I encourage those in Rhodes, and those with family and friends there, to continue checking FCDO travel advice for updates.”
The Foreign Office updated its foreign travel advice on the heatwaves and wildfires in Europe.
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.”
Firefighting forces from eight EU countries are either operating or due to arrive soon, Mr Artopios said. Israel, Jordan and Turkey have also sent reinforcements, mostly aerial equipment.