They quietly wait, sitting on their suitcases, at the edge of a beach on the island of the Knights, for a boat to come and evacuate them. Despite the glowing sky, the stifling heat, the smoke in the distance, despite the sun that we no longer see and the deafening silence of the birds and crickets, the children play at chasing each other. Other tourists were thrown onto the roads in swimsuits and flip-flops as soon as they were ordered to evacuate their hotel. Order sent to their mobile by the Ministry of Civil Protection. They had to walk more than three kilometers in indescribable heat and abandonment.
The Monastery of Ipseni surrounded by flames
Whole families with their wheeled suitcases in one hand, their children in the other. Babies in arms. A picture that is reminiscent of the march of asylum seekers who crossed the country in the same conditions, fires, heat wave and less benevolence of the police: “We were given wet towels at the reception and we all left with the staff who did what they could for us”, says this man on Greek television.
Higher on the mountains that have been burning for seven days, the flames surround the women’s monastery of Ipseni near Lardos (center of the island). The Orthodox nuns refused to leave, convinced that prayer would save their home. The firefighters who came to take them away remained trapped with them. So far the monastery has been spared. A scene that had already occurred last week during the fires around Athens. A video of a firefighter kneeling in front of the monastery’s hegumen, unsuccessfully begging her to follow him, has gone viral.
Twelve localities on the island were evacuated, including Lindos, tourist pearl of Rhodes, as well as 19,000 tourists and local inhabitants, 16,000 by land, 3,000 by sea. Housed either on one of the four ferries requisitioned, or in the halls of town halls, conferences, schools, gymnasiums or hotels with room left.
Evacuations in the greatest disorganization
But once there: “Apart from a little water and some makeshift food, there is nothing, alas. No mattresses, no beds, people are sitting on the steps of the stairs, on school desks. They find boxes to improvise a bed on the floor. All testimonies converge, these evacuations, the largest the country has ever known, were carried out in the greatest disorganization.
The farmers did all they could to help with their agricultural trucks but often the fires blocked the roads, especially those to the airport and many tourists missed their flights. Others arrived in front of the check-in counters with a briefcase on their backs and no travel documents. The very many volunteers who fight with the firefighters to put out the fires denounce a total lack of coordination.
Thousands of charred animals
Hell in Rhodes does not only affect humans. Thousands of animals are dead, charred. Butterflies in the listed Butterfly Valley are in serious danger due to smoke covering part of the island. The Dama dama deer, which represent an endemic species, unique in the world and on the verge of extinction, were very hard hit. Several of their carcasses were spotted on the sides of the roads. Symbols of the island, these fires risk being fatal to them.