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27 Jan, 2022 11:03

Greek premier in hot water over snowstorm impact

Natural disaster caught the country off guard despite similar extreme weather conditions occurring last year

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has apologized to his fellow citizens after heavy snowfall paralyzed traffic in Athens, leaving thousands of motorists trapped on blocked highways.

Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Mitsotakis admitted that “there were mistakes and shortcomings which have to be fixed.” According to the premier, while a “Mediterranean country’s infrastructure is not always adapted to conditions of heavy snowfall,” it is also true that the “state mechanism is not yet at the point of readiness that phenomena of such great intensity require.

Snowstorm Elpis, which has also wreaked havoc in Turkey, made landfall in Greece on Monday night. A veritable drama played out on Attiki Odos highway, which is Athens’ main ring road. An estimated 4,000 motorists were left struck there for hours in sub-freezing temperatures. Some eventually abandoned their vehicles and made their way home on foot or found shelter in the capital’s airport.

Many, including seniors, however, did not dare venture outside and called in to local radio and TV stations, making impassioned pleas for help. The Greek government had to deploy the military to evacuate the remaining drivers, some of whom had to spend nearly 20 hours in their vehicles. 

Similar scenes were also seen on other transport arteries in and around Athens.

On top of that, the snowstorm led to power outages, with some 3,000 households still without electricity on Wednesday, according to reports. 

To deal with the natural disaster’s aftermath, authorities announced a public holiday in the country’s capital on Tuesday and Wednesday, with schools closed until Friday. 

And while Mitsotakis accepted responsibility for the state’s unpreparedness, he simultaneously pointed the finger at the private operator running the Attiki Odos highway.

However, with similar extreme weather conditions occurring last winter, the premier’s critics argue his government’s failure to prepare was inexcusable. 

The leader of Greece’s left-wing opposition and former prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, described the events on Monday as a “show of complete chaos for the country and complete and utter torment for its people,” charging that “Mr. Mitsotakis, who is responsible for this mess, is nowhere to be seen.” Tsipras concluded that the “quicker this government resigns, the faster they will leave; the better for this country.

Media and meteorologists also called into question the government’s competence.

Speaking on Wednesday, Kostas Lagouvardos, the head of the National Observatory of Athens, insisted his colleagues had warned authorities of the snowstorm in advance; however, their forecasts apparently went unheeded. Lagouvardos insisted that “once again we have seen the state being reluctant to listen to the scientists and that is dangerous when we are talking about the safety of people and their property.

In what appears to be a damage-control exercise, the Greek prime minister has announced that payments of €2,000 will be made to the motorists who found themselves trapped on the Attiki Odos highway on Monday.

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