A HOLIDAYMAKER has spoken of her shock at being evacuated from Tunisia as violent protests swept the country.
Lynda O’Dea, 62, of Dale Street, Todmorden, was flown home on Friday morning when a state of emergency was declared after the ousted president fled the country.
Lynda was in the second week of a month-long Thomas Cook package holiday in Tunisia when the growing unrest in the country led to clashes between demonstrators and the police and military.
Lynda, who was staying in a hotel a few miles away from Hammamet, said the situation developed rapidly.
“Last Tuesday we heard that unrest had started in the capital, Tunis,” she said. “We heard of demonstrations and the riot police were over-reacting and shooting people.
“It escalated as the week went on. By Thursday, Hammamet was going up in flames. We could see across the bay black smoke billowing up.
“It was the first day I didn’t go to Hammamet. It was lucky I didn’t go.”
She said it was quite frightening to see tanks at the end of the road and hearing gun shots.
“There were a lot more people being killed than it said in the news,” she said.
“The hotel security guards closed our hotel. We were effectively prisoners in the hotel from Thursday morning.
“It was quite scary really. It was a relief to get home.”
Lynda received a phone call from Thomas Cook on Thursday night saying the tour operator would be flying holidaymakers out of the country on Friday morning.
“There was a lot of secrecy surrounding the arrangements,” she said. “They whisked us off quite quickly.
“It was quite a shock for everybody. I think people thought it would blow over.
“They told us we would be evacuated because we were in the trouble zone.
“We were taken cross country to meet up with a dual carriageway. We were not taken through any towns.
“We were taken to an airport hotel and left there until the flight list came from the airport. They sent out five empty aircraft to bring people home.
“Later in the day, passengers were accosted on their way to the airport and the driver pulled out of one bus. “The airport rushed us through. They didn’t bother about excess baggage and none of the usual restrictions applied.
“The man next to me on the plane was based in Hammamet. His hotel manager had been shot dead the night before when he popped out to the chemist.”
Lynda, who was travelling alone, said the violence came as a surprise.
“I hadn’t been aware of any conflict before I went and yet we were told that there had been a low level of disruption for three to four weeks,” she said.
“I hadn’t seen anything on the news or had any contact from the travel agent.
“Some of us would have preferred to have stayed and finished our holiday even if it was hotel based because we were not near the actual conflict, but it would have been nerve-wracking as we were unsure how much it was going to escalate.”
The experience has not discouraged her from travelling in the future. “It hasn’t put me off. I have travelled a lot and I will still be travelling,” she said.
“I have travelled all over the world independently and not had any problems and then I was evacuated on a package holiday.”
She said Thomas Cook had been very supportive.
“When we arrived in Manchester, they said we could contact their customer services with a view to reimbursement for unused hotel accommodation.
“They have handled it very efficiently.”