Tourists sit in the back of an open air lorry as they are evacuated during wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes. Image Credit: AFP

HANOVER, Germany: German tourist Oxana Neb said she stayed in her hotel until the fires on the Greek island of Rhodes forced her and thousands of visitors like her to flee.

“We just ran to the beach with suitcases”, said the 50-year-old who ended up discarding her luggage in the sand.

Many tourists have got caught in the middle of the wildfires that have been fanned by winds and scorching temperatures in Greece.

“Hell on Earth” is how Lena Schwarz described the situation on Rhodes before her abrupt departure from the Greek island.

Schwarz arrived back in Germany along with other tourists on a flight to the northern city of Hanover overnight Sunday into Monday.

“We ran 10 kilometres (six miles) with all our luggage to escape the flames”, while the temperature was 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit), Schwarz told AFP.

Around 30,000 had be evacuated to safety on Rhodes over the weekend as fires raged across the eastern part of the island in the middle of the tourism season.

Police said 16,000 people had been transported on land and evacuated 3,000 by sea. Others had to flee by road or used their own transport after being told to leave the area.

Tourists are sheltered in a sports hall after being evacuated following a wildfire on the island of Rhodes. Image Credit: Reuters

‘We saw the fire’

Among the thousands of holidaymakers to flee the flames were many Germans, along with British and French visitors.

Hundreds of people turned up at Rhodes airport over the weekend to try and find a way back home. Several travel companies have halted their inbound tourist flights to the island, but have been helping to ferry foreigners home.

“We saw the fire from a distance already,” recalled 24-year-old German Erika Gobizki.

Tourists who made it to the airport were confronted with a chaotic situation.

“There were a lot of people who had to spend the night there (at the airport)” or were left to organise new accommodation for themselves, said Gobizki.

In the departures hall at the airport on the northwest of the island, AFP saw waiting travellers sleeping on the floor next to their luggage.

Rhodes, which saw 2.5 million visitors in 2022, is one of the main tourist destinations in Greece, with hotels lining the island’s coast.

This summer, the country experienced one of the longest heatwaves in recent years, according to experts, with the thermometer hitting 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) at the weekend.