Greater Athens and much of Greece woke up to a thick white blanket on Tuesday after heavy snowfall paralyzed the road network and forced the government to declare Tuesday a holiday.
Maritime transport was also disrupted and connections to the islands suspended due to strong winds. Throughout the night from Monday to Tuesday, soldiers, rescuers, police and firefighters evacuated hundreds of motorists, some of whom were still trapped in their vehicles on Tuesday morning on the Athens ring road, Attiki Odos, after falls. “exceptional” snow, according to civil protection.
Blankets, food, bottles of water were distributed to motorists, many of whom had to abandon their vehicles on the snow-covered road as the temperature fell below zero. Some 300 motorists were transferred to a hotel near Athens International Airport to spend the night.
The Attiki Odos ring road, 70 km long, as well as other major axes of the capital remained closed to traffic on Tuesday. Greece, where snowfall is infrequent, does not have sufficient numbers of snowplows and other clearing machines.
Due to the paralysis of traffic, and the negative temperatures forecast by the weather, the government declared Tuesday a “non-working day”, deciding to “suspend” all private and public services, with the exception of essential services, such as the police, fire brigade and pharmacies.
Obligatory traffic jams and snow chains
The Athens public prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation to seek responsibility for the “disturbances and obstruction to traffic”, according to a judicial source. The Minister of Civil Protection and Climate Change Christos Stylianides “apologized” on Monday for the problems on the ring road which serves Athens airport in particular, but blamed it on the management company which “doesn’t failed to keep this busy axis open”.
For its part, Attiki Odos’ company also apologized for these “unprecedented incidents” on this major toll road, but stressed that “the traffic problems that caused heavy traffic jams were due either to vehicle breakdowns , or the lack of experience of motorists, some of whom were afraid. On the two main highways linking Athens to the Peloponnese (south) and Thessaloniki (north), chains are compulsory, according to the police.