Thursday, May 26

Greek Prime Minister faces a blizzard of anger as thousands are stranded in Athens’ snow | Greece

The Greek prime minister apologized for the state’s lack of preparation to deal with a snowstorm that left thousands of people stranded in their cars in Athens.

The unprecedented spectacle of elite forces called to evacuate motorists trapped in vehicles along the capital’s main ring road left the government reeling as damage was still calculated from Monday’s storm.

With blackouts reported across the city, Kyriakos Mitsotakis acknowledged the public’s anger. “I would like to start with a personal and sincere apology to our fellow citizens who suffered for many hours trapped in Attiki Odos,” he said in televised remarks. “There were mistakes and deficiencies that need to be corrected.”

Snow covers the Acropolis in central Athens.
Snow covers the Acropolis in central Athens. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

About 4,000 drivers were stranded in cars for hours in sub-zero temperatures as the storm hit Athens. Those who were not evacuated by the military sought shelter at Athens international airport or struggled to walk home through the snow.

On Wednesday, dozens of cars abandoned by owners remained stuck on the ring road, while power cuts in the wider Athens region hit thousands of homes for a third day.

Mitsotakis, echoing the ministers, blamed much of the debacle on private motorway system operator Attiki Odos, which has been criticized for allowing cars onto its road, but admitted it was also time to step up defenses against the climate crisis.

Greek soldiers clear snow in front of cars at Attiki Odos.
Greek soldiers clear snow in front of cars at Attiki Odos. Photograph: Yannis Kolesidis/EPA

Like Turkey, also hit by the storm, Greece experienced devastating wildfires last year with the loss of hundreds of homes and livestock.

“It is true that the infrastructures of a Mediterranean country are not always adapted to heavy snow conditions,” said the leader. “It is equally true, however, that the state mechanism is not yet at the point of preparation required by phenomena of such great intensity.”

In a country of hyperpartisan media coverage where Mitsotakis’ center-right government is rarely censored, the criticism has been impossible to ignore. The media has condemned the authorities’ slow response to the blizzard, calling the chaotic scenes in an EU member state inexcusable.

People try to walk on ice in the center of Athens.
People try to walk on ice in the center of Athens. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

All non-essential services were closed, including the entire public sector, and the government declared a public holiday on Tuesday and Wednesday. Schools are not expected to reopen until Friday after authorities announced that snow was still blocking access to many of the facilities.

This is the second year in a row, and only the second time since 1968, that Athens, more accustomed to the hardships of extreme heat, has been hit by a snowstorm of such force. Up to 50 centimeters of snow fell in 12 hours in some parts of the capital. Indicative of the intensity of the storm, tornadoes were reported off islands and coastal areas, with almost all of Athens, from the Acropolis in the old city center to the coastal suburbs in the southeast, blanketed in white.

Forecasters were also relentless Wednesday in criticizing the state’s response. Kostas Lagouvardos, who heads the National Observatory in Athens, said the storm had been accurately forecast well in advance and officials had ignored the forecasts.

“There is no excuse,” he said. “Unlike 20 years ago, we have the tools and methods to accurately forecast such events and this was very well forecast. Once again, we have seen that the state is reluctant to listen to scientists and that is dangerous when we talk about the safety of people and their property.”

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