ATHENS – The worst snowstorm in years caught Greece’s New Democracy government off guard, leading to electricity blackouts and rival parties sniping at Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, saying his government was unprepared.
Even former premier and major opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, whose government had no disaster response plan and was accused of a chaotic response to July 23, 2018 wildfires that killed 102 people piled on.
Mitsotakis, annoyed at the blame game between parties, which Kathimerini said he said was like a “ping pong” game of swapping accusations, nevertheless said he would move to prevent confusion over overlapping responsibilities between state agencies to deal with similar problems.
Addressing New Democracy’s central committee, he said that, “It is our decision to proceed with even greater speed to one of our central campaign commitments, which is none other than the clarification of responsibilities at all levels of government, starting with the central state,” the paper said.
He also said he asked the CEO of the country’s power utility (PPC), Georgios Stassis, to consider a reduction in February’s electricity bills for households that were left without power for three days during the snowstorm.
Critics said the state failed on a number of fronts, including not pruning trees which led to branches falling on power lines and bringing them down, and hundreds of utility poles downed adding to the problem.
The government also said it will prioritize the replacement of overhead cables providing electrical power with underground cables in critical areas although, unlike the fires, there was no major loss of life.
That wasn’t enough for Mitsotakis to avoid ferocious criticism from rivals eager to jump on him, saying the government wasn’t ready to deal with bad weather although it was extreme for Greece, although forecast.
“Let him stop looking for those responsible in order to transfer his own responsibilities. Chaos and staff incompetence have his signature,” SYRIZA said in a statement, avoiding questions from reporters.
“Citizens are paying for the Prime Minister’s ping-ponging between carelessness and incompetence,” it added, using his words against him, while other parties jumped on the bandwagon against him.
Fofi Gennimata, leader of the politically irrelevant center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) – which includes members of the former PASOK Socialists who served New Democracy in a previous coalition – slapped at him too.
She said Mitsotakis was “pretending to be Pontius Pilate” to wash his hands of the failures and referred to “the complete failure of the state mechanism,” saying he passed the buck. “But the reality is not hidden,” she said.
It was unclear who had the responsibility to deal with the power outages and problems, and whether the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator (DEDDIE) was the primary responder.
Power went out to almost 40,000 households in Attica, which includes the capital and particularly in the northern suburbs but elsewhere too, affecting other regions.
DEDDIE held successive meetings with Civil Protection authorities and the army was also brought in while a mobile operations center, code-named Olympus, was set up in Ekali, northern Athens, the paper’s report added.
Tsipras lamented the decision to close the Athens-Lamia national highway at the height of the snowstorms although it was risky driving, especially for Greeks not used to doing so in snow.
Government spokesman Christos Tarantilis recalled that the same road was closed in December 2017 with much less snowfall when SYRIZA was in office. Thousands of people were trapped in their cars, not for a few minutes but for eight hours, he said.
Tarantilis insisted that the government considers that its decision to ban traffic on the Athens-Lamia highway was crucial, as it prevented the possibility of people getting trapped in their cars on the highway.
He added that the decision was backed by the data of the National Meteorological Service (EMY), which showed that the bad weather that hit Attica was the worst since 1983, as it lasted a total of 36 hours and reached an average depth of 20 to 25 points, the highest in 40 years.
Several mayors blamed DEDDIE, saying that there was never a request for pruning trees located near power lines but it was uncertain whether that was the responsibility of the agency or municipalities.
DEDDIE was also accused of not having enough crews to respond, similar criticism made against local authorities for not opening roads to let power teams get to the lines.