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Forest fires in Rhodes force mass evacuations

Forest fires in Rhodes force mass evacuations

ATHENS (Reuters) – Forest fires that raged on the Greek island of Rhodes five days ago forced hundreds of people to flee affected villages and beaches by land and sea on Saturday, authorities said.

Coast guard spokesman Nikos Alexiou told Skai television that coast guard vessels and more than 30 private boats had evacuated at least 2,000 people, including tourists, from beaches near Kiotari and Lardos in the southeastern part of the island.

He said that an operation was underway to evacuate about 600 people from the beaches of Kiotari and Gennadi towards Blimiri.

Vassilis Vatrakogiannis, a spokesman for the fire brigade, said authorities had also urged about 1,000 people to leave the villages of Pefki, Lindos and Kalatos as the flames approached.

Firefighters, supported by aerial water bombers and reinforcements from Slovakia, struggled as new wildfires fanned by strong winds broke out.

Greek television showed crowds of tourists walking with their belongings along a road as part of the evacuation process, with smoke seen in the background.

“We set up fire barriers around the village of Larma last night, but the 180-degree wind change this morning helped increase the size of the fire across several kilometers… all the way to a tourist area,” Rhodes deputy mayor Konstantinos Taraslias told OpenTV.

Taraslias said the evacuees were staying in an enclosed playground and hotels on the island. The coast guard said three passenger ferries will host tourists overnight.

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The fire has burned swathes of dense forest since it broke out in a mountainous area on Tuesday. At least three hotels were destroyed in the coastal village of Kiotari on Saturday, according to the Athens News Agency.

Civil protection authorities warned of the risk of wildfires in Rhodes and several other regions of Greece on Sunday, when temperatures are expected to reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) amid a heat wave.

Senior government officials will travel to Rhodes to help with the situation. On Saturday, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had activated its crisis management unit to provide assistance to foreigners wishing to leave the country.

Fires are common in Greece, but hotter, drier and windier summers have turned the country into a hotbed of wildfires in recent years. Meteorologists have warned that the current extreme temperatures are expected to continue until the end of the month.

(Reporting by Angeliki Kotanto) Editing by Francis Kerry, Mike Harrison and Daniel Wallis

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