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Snowstorm Showed Bungled Response to Power Outages in Greece

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Power distribution network operator working to restore electricity to 3,500 households. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Sotiris Dimitropoulos)

ATHENS - Under fire from the major opposition SYRIZA - whose chaotic response to  2018 wildfires saw 102 people die - Greece’s New Democracy government is revising how to deal with bad weather such as a snowstorm that knocked out power.

The aftermath saw different agencies not coordinating their response, leading Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to say a centralized plan to deal with near-disasters will be drawn up.

Nearly 40,000 households in the biggest prefecture of Attica, which includes the capital Athens, were left without power or heat or Internet connections, mainly caused by trees laden with heavy snow falling on power lines.

A new plan will see municipalities, not the state, responsible to clear felled trees and coordinate with the state power agency to deal with blackouts and keep their duration as short as possible, said Kathimerini.

The state power distribution network (DEDDIE) will be responsible for cable maintenance and restoration where there is a problem and there will be a move toward underground electricity cables where possible.

That will be done using 200 million euros ($242.73 million) from the European Union’s Recovery Fund, the paper said, as rival parties dueled in a blame game with the government.

Government sources not identified told newspaper there were a number of reasons for the sluggish response, not just from DEDDIE and local authorities without giving specifics.

There were about 5,000 incidents involving damaged trees and  DEDDIE’s ability to respond efficiently was slow because it only had 600 workers in the Attica region despite it being the population hub of the country.

Due to chronic underfunding, moreover, DEDDIE’s power grid is antiquated, worsening the problem from the storm dubbed Medea, the paper said, reporting that in the final phase of the restoration effort the agency had to set up a new network in some cases where the damage did not allow the poles and cables to be placed in the previous position.

The absence of a digital system made the recovery that much harder, as a door-to-door inspection had to be carried out to ascertain where there was electricity and where there was not, the report added.

But there were also critical failures in other areas. Kathimerini said the Civil Protection Authority had sent its operational plan for the management of heavy snowfall to municipalities as early as November, 2020 but that out of 325 municipalities only 14 responded by then.