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‘People were completely traumatised’: Irish woman holidaying in Rhodes will never forget ‘carnage’

Maggie Mc Manus describes seeing ‘fires raging in the dark’ as her family’s plane descended to Greek island

An Irish woman who flew from Dublin to Rhodes on Saturday has said she will never forget “the carnage” on the Greek island as long as she lives.

A wildfire has raged on Rhodes for six days, forcing thousands of tourists and island residents to shelter in schools and indoor stadiums on Sunday after they were evacuated from coastal villages and resorts.

Maggie Mc Manus (58) from Kilbride, Co Meath, travelled to Rhodes for a family holiday with her husband Ronan and daughters Rachel (21) and Ruby (20) on Saturday. They departed Dublin Airport for Rhodes at 4.50pm and arrived at about 11.30pm local time.

She said she made “numerous enquiries” with travel operator TUI Holidays throughout the week about whether it was still safe to travel.


“Everything appeared to be okay, so we headed off yesterday evening,” she told The Irish Times on Sunday. “Just as we were about to take off I got a text from a friend about just how chaotic it had become.

“There was not a word as we were travelling to say there was an issue. About 10 minutes before we landed, we could see from the air the extent of the fires, and it was absolutely frightening.

“It was just unbelievable. It didn’t feel like real life. All you could see was the fires raging in the dark.”

Ms Mc Manus said she first realised the family could be in trouble when there was no transportation to pick them up from the airport.

“There was chaos at that point,” she said. “There were hundreds of people milling around. No one could get anywhere. We were then told we were going to be taken to a refuge centre.

“We had two hours on a bus to get to the centre, which was a school. On the way, people were being whipped out of hotels without a bag or a thing. It was just ‘get out of here immediately.’

“People were completely traumatised, and it became a very hostile environment. People became very, very angry. They were not getting any answers. They had been up all night with children crying, so everyone was on a bit of short fuse at that stage.”

Ms Mc Manus said conditions at the refuge centre were unsafe and unsanitary, and that there was no food or supplies.

“My daughters were completely freaked out,” she said. “They were petrified because it was an open-door policy with people wandering in and out all night long. You were afraid to sleep and everyone was exhausted. Just a very frightening environment to be in.

“Anything could happen to you, and there was nobody there to protect you or do anything. You’re trying to stay awake but you’re so tired you can’t help nodding off occasionally.”

She said there were taps outside the facility which were safe to drink from, but that this water ran out at some point during the night.

“We were looking for containers to fill because we were all dying of thirst at that stage,” she said. “But then at some point during the night, the water ran out.

“I walked off at about 3am and found a petrol station where I got some bottled water and a few bits for us to snack on. But there were people there who didn’t have anything. There was nothing provided at that time of night.

“There were people there with small children and babies,” she said. “No food for the babies. One child was taken away to hospital. It was absolutely horrific. Really and truly. The electricity went as well, and it became completely unsanitary.”

Despite the conditions, Ms Mc Manus said the situation was helped by local people who provided bottles of water as well as baskets of fruit and coffees.

On Sunday morning, a local person drove the family to a taxi rank where they got a taxi to their hotel in Lindos.

“The sky was clear this morning, but we can already see smoke in the distance,” she said. “We’re just so blessed because we are fine now, but I will never forget the carnage we left behind as long as I live.

“It was just horrendous, particularly for anyone with young children. Not a clue. Afraid of their lives. At least we had our luggage with us because we had just come off the flight.”

A spokeswoman for TUI Holidays said the company has cancelled all outbound flights to Rhodes up to and including Tuesday, and are contacting passengers due to travel on Wednesday to offer them “free amends to another holiday”.

“Those customers currently in Rhodes will return on their intended flight home,” she said. “We are working with the local authorities in Rhodes who are managing the movement of people, food and power in the impacted areas of the island.

“We have reps on the ground at all evacuation points and have brought in additional team members to Rhodes to support customers in a difficult and evolving situation. We’ll continue to work with the authorities and do everything we can to assist those affected.”

The spokeswoman added that the company “appreciates how distressing and difficult it is for customers who have been evacuated and ask they follow the advice of the local authorities who are managing tourist movements in impacted areas”.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter