There are up to 10,000 British tourists on Rhodes as wildfires sweep across parts of the Greek island, a Foreign Office minister has said.
Andrew Mitchell made the remarks as the first repatriation flights are due to arrive back in the UK to get hundreds of British holidaymakers off the island.
Asked how many British people are currently on Rhodes, Mr Mitchell told Sky News: “It’s difficult to be absolutely sure, the figure is between 7,000 and 10,000.”
It comes as sea evacuations have begun from a beach in Corfu to transport individuals fleeing wildfires on the Greek island.
The evacuation involved six coast guard vessels and nine private vessels, with around 59 people evacuated from Nissaki beach on the northwest coast, the coast guard said.
Asked how many UK holidaymakers are on Corfu, the Foreign Office minister said: “We’re not sure how many are on Corfu, but the position on Corfu is very different.
“The fires are not taking place in residential areas or holiday areas, and although some people were temporarily moved, they’ve now been sent back to their accommodation.”
Mr Mitchell also said it is “difficult to say” whether the wildfires on the islands will get better or worse and said it “depends on which way the wind blows and how fiercely it blows”.
The minister also said tour operators “can and should be as close as possible to the people whose holidays they have organised” as British holidaymakers have accused companies such as Jet2 and Tui of leaving them in their hotels without any guidance.
He continued: “I’m sure that the tour operators will be doing everything they can. They may have had a slow start, but I’m sure they’ll be doing everything they can to support the people whose holidays they have organised.”
Meanwhile, evacuations have been taking place on a third Greek island affected by wildfires, according to reports.
Some 77 firefighters and 25 water trucks are battling scattered outbreaks in Evia, east of Athens, said Greece’s state agency ANA-MPA, citing the fire department.
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly tweeted to say his office is in “close contact with authorities in Greece”.
He added that a Rapid Deployment Team of Foreign Office and British Red Cross responders is in Rhodes to support British nationals.
It comes as travel firm Tui has said holidaymakers have returned to the UK from Rhodes on “three dedicated flights”.
It said in a statement: “We’re now working hard to get everybody home safely… We appreciate how distressing and difficult it has been for those who have been evacuated and ask that they continue to follow the advice of the local authorities and keep in touch with the Tui reps who are present in all evacuation centres.
“Our teams will be contacting customers with any updates as soon as they can. We have cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Tuesday, and passengers due to travel on these flights will receive full refunds.”
Tui also said passengers due to travel on Wednesday will be offered a “fee-free amend” to another holiday or the option to cancel for a full refund.
More repatriation flights are due to arrive in Rhodes after tourists and residents huddled in schools and shelters on the island, with many evacuated on private boats from beaches as flames menaced resorts and coastal villages
Scores of others were forced to spend the weekend sleeping rough on beaches, pool sun loungers or on the streets.
A total of approximately 19,000 people have been rescued from the island so far.
Amy Leyden, a British tourist who was rescued from Rhodes, has said her evacuation was a “terrifying” experience, adding: “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Police rushed Ms Leyden, her partner and their two-year-old daughter from their hotel – which has now burned down – before they ran through “thick smoke”.
“We just had to keep running and then the fire was getting closer and it was getting harder to breathe,” she said.
A local man picked up the family in a truck and drove them to the beach, she explained, but the sight she was greeted by was “awful”.
“The army was waiting but everyone was fighting to get onto the boats, there were children falling in the water.”
Greece’s Emergency Communications Service published evacuation orders for some areas of Corfu after reports of wildfires.
People in the areas of Santa, Megoula, Porta, Palia, Perithia and Sinies on the island were told to leave on Sunday evening.
TUI also advised individuals set to stay at specific hotels in Corfu on the 24 or 25 July to not travel to the airport.
“If you’re staying at the TUI Blue Atlantica Nissaki Beach, Pantokrator, Golden Mare, La Riviera or Nautilusue then we advise not to travel to the airport. Other hotels are operating as normal,” it said in a statement on Sunday.
Tour operators Jet2, TUI and Correndon have cancelled flights leaving for Rhodes in the next few days.
Travel agent Thomas Cook cancelled some upcoming holidays and is offering other customers full refunds should they wish to cancel their trips.
EasyJet has said it is laying on two repatriation flights from the island on Monday, in addition to the nine flights they already operate between Rhodes and the UK – providing 421 extra seats to get people out.
The airline also pledged to run another repatriation flight back to the UK on Tuesday and promised to keep the situation under review.
No rain forecast after historic evacuation
The flames have left trees black and skeletal and the roads around the island littered with dead animals and near burnt-out cars.
Six people were briefly treated at a hospital for respiratory problems.
A person fell and broke a leg during a hotel evacuation, and a pregnant woman was taken to hospital. The pregnant woman is in good condition, authorities said.
Temperatures are expected to drop below 40C on the island on Monday but remain in the high 30s.
There is no rain forecast in the next week.
The fire brigade said 19,000 people were moved from homes and hotels, calling it the biggest safe transport of residents and tourists Greece has ever carried out.
What rights do holidaymakers have?
Evacuation ‘chaos’ amid ‘hotels on fire’
Speaking to Sky News at Rhodes Airport, tourist Tom Mitchell recounted how he and his friend Natalie Taylor were evacuated from their hotel.
He said: “We were at the hotel yesterday and there was lots of smoke. It got to one o’clock this morning and we had an evacuation notice come through on our phones to leave.
“It just felt like chaos really.”
Eventually, a coach arrived and took them to a school in the city.
He praised the locals for all the help offered to stranded tourists as he and Ms Taylor sat in the airport, waiting for their flight home.
Another British family spent a night sleeping on the floor of a school after being evacuated from a wildfire on Rhodes.
Coast guard vessels and private boats carried more than 3,000 tourists from beaches on Saturday after the wildfires, which have burned for nearly a week, rekindled in the southeast of Rhodes.
Other parts of Greece’s third most populated island were not affected.
Olga Kefalogianni, Greece’s tourism minister, told Sky News “overall, the island is functioning very well”.
She praised locals for showing “solidarity” with tourists affected by the fires.
Nevertheless, areas popular with many tourists were badly hit.
Many people fled hotels when huge flames reached the seaside villages of Kiotari, Gennadi, Pefki, Lindos, Lardos and Kalathos.
Crowds gathered in streets under an orange sky while smoke hung in the air.
In Lindos, famed for an acropolis on a massive rock within medieval walls, a blaze charred the hillside and buildings.
Thanasis Virinis, a vice mayor of Rhodes, told Mega television on Sunday that between 4,000 and 5,000 people were in temporary accommodation, calling for donations of essentials such as mattresses and bedclothes.
Among the nationalities of tourists affected on Rhodes were French, Dutch and Germans, as well as Britons.
One hotelier said the island can receive 150,000 visitors at a time in peak season. The resident population of the island is around 125,000.
Foreign Office Rapid Deployment Team sent to the island
As crowds filled Rhodes airport, the Greek foreign ministry said it was setting up a helpdesk for people who had lost travel documents.
SHARE WITH SKY NEWS
Are you, or family and friends, affected by the wildfires in Greece? You can share your story, pictures or video with us using our app, private messaging or email.
:: Your Report on Sky News apps
By sending us your video footage/ photographs/ audio you agree we can broadcast, publish and edit the material.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We are actively monitoring the fires in Rhodes and are in close contact with local authorities.
“The FCDO has deployed a Rapid Deployment Team (RDT) of five FCDO staff and four British Red Cross responders to Rhodes to support British Nationals, whose safety is our top priority.
“They will be based at Rhodes International Airport to assist with travel documents and liaise with Greek authorities and travel operators on the ground.
“British nationals in Rhodes should contact their travel operator in the first instance for any queries regarding the rescheduling of flights and continue to check our updated gov.uk travel advice for information.”