Thousands Evacuated In Greece Because Of Raging Fires Caused By Severe Heat

[Al Jazeera] A large blaze burning on the Greek island of Rhodes for the fifth day has forced authorities to evacuate as many as 30,000 people.

According to the Greek coastguard, people were being picked up from Kiotari and Lardos beaches on the east of the Mediterranean island popular with tourists. Officials on the island said 30,000 people have already been evacuated, including 2,000 who had to be ferried off beaches.

Members of the coastguard, the armed forces and local authority workers used dozens of buses to help move people away from the fires, said Rhodes municipality official Teris Hatziioannou.

Where the fires had cut off road access, some tourists had to walk to safety.

“Those fires have been burning for days now but really escalated today in the afternoon, causing them to be out of control – moving more towards the east coast; this is a more touristy area, which is why you’re saying thousands of tourists walking with their luggage away from hotels,” Dekker said.

“The Navy is involved in trying to evacuate people, also calling on those with private vessels to help evacuate. They’re also being moved by authorities to schools, gymnasiums, and other areas of the island. At the moment there are no fatalities, but this is an extremely serious situation,” she added.

Experts have pointed the finger at climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels, saying global warming is playing a key role in extreme weather.

Already 11 days into its heatwave, Greece’s national weather institute on Saturday warned reprieve was still days away, setting this up to be the longest hot spell the country has ever seen.

“According to the data, we will probably go through 16-17 days of a heatwave, which has never happened before in our country,” Kostas Lagouvardos, director of research at the National Observatory, told ERT television Saturday.

The previous heatwave record in Greece was set in 1987 when scorching temperatures higher than 39C [102F] lasted for 11 days.

Greece, which is battling dozens of forest fires, warned people not to venture out unnecessarily due to the baking heat.

The exceptional temperatures also mean key tourist sites such as the Acropolis will be closed during the hottest part of the day.

“Greece may be more of a focus than Italy for breaking records. Athens, for example, could go up to 42C [108F] on Sunday, which is within shouting distance of the sitting record,” said Rob McElwee, senior weather presenter for Al Jazeera.

Sea temperatures are two to three degrees above normal, the state weather service reported also on Saturday.

The temperatures are taking a toll on people’s health.

Emergency health officials told the state broadcaster at least 38 heatstroke patients were received in the last three days, while hospitals were also seeing cases of fainting and other heat-related conditions.

Authorities, meanwhile, reported firefighters were still battling 79 forest fires across the country, with their spokesperson Vassilios Vathrakoyannis saying Greece would be on a state of alert through the weekend.

Millions of people in southern Europe have similarly been suffering through intense heat this summer as the world appears headed for its hottest July on record.

Soaring temperatures across Italy are taking a heavy toll on residents as they struggle to stay cool during the heatwave.

Alessandro Miani, president of the Italian Society of Environmental Doctors, warned that the ageing populations in Italy and other countries are a concern because heat-related deaths most commonly happen in people older than 80.

“The excessive heat together with humidity can make it difficult for sweat to evaporate, interfering with the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature,” Miani said.

Other southern European countries like Spain have also been grappling with extreme heat this month.

In the Balkans this week, a second storm has left at least three people dead in Serbia, according to local reports.

Meteorologists said the storms were of such powerful magnitude because they followed a string of extremely hot days.

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