ATHENS — Heavy snowfall blanketed the Acropolis and other ancient monuments in Athens and halted COVID-19 vaccinations in the Greek capital Tuesday as the weather brought many services across the country to a standstill.
The snow, an unusual sight in the city of more than 3 million residents, also stopped most public transport services, while toppled trees caused blackouts in several mountainside suburbs.
Snow is common in Greece’s mountains and in the north of the country, but much rarer in the capital, particularly heavy snow. Some Athenians emerged cautiously outside, snapping photos on balconies and in the streets.
The snow arrived as Athens and several other parts of Greece remain in lockdown to curb coronavirus infections. Schools and most stores are closed, and residents must stay indoors during a nightly curfew.
Some children skipped online classes Tuesday to play in the snow. Adults also went out to play, with some digging out skis to use on the capital’s hilly slopes. One man skied along Pnyx hill in central Athens, near the Acropolis.
Norwegian Ambassador Frode Overland Andersen tweeted a video of himself skiing down a hill in the suburb of Filothei with his teenage daughter.
“Challenge accepted,” he wrote, after a friend in Oslo challenged him to prove it really was possible to ski in Athens.
“It was the best day at my home office during the lockdown so far,” the ambassador told The Associated Press. “Sadly, my skis took a rather hard beating, so I will be waxing and prepping for next season.”
Outside the parliament building, orange-colored snowplows cleared streets of ice and snow, while presidential guards, dressed in traditional pleated kilts and pompom-tipped shoes, were given heavy woolen overcoats.
Sections of Greece’s main highway were closed, most ferry services to the islands were canceled, and flights from regional airports to Athens were disrupted.
Fire Service spokesman Vassilis Vathrakoyiannis said the service had received more than 600 calls for assistance in greater Athens.
“The calls mainly concerned downed trees and transporting people stuck in their vehicles to a safe place, but also to transport kidney dialysis patients to receive treatment,” he told state TV.
“Vaccinations have been postponed, but we have helped transport doctors and medical staff where they are needed, and we helped power technicians get to damaged electricity pylons in areas where access was difficult,” Vathrakoyiannis said.
Power and water cuts were also reported in central Greece. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with emergency response leaders to assist residents in blacked-out areas and villages cut off by the snow.
“We obviously recommend great care be taken in all movement, all unnecessary movement should be avoided,” Mitsotakis said after the meeting, adding that authorities were doing everything they could to keep the roads open and to restore power to areas without electricity.
“I think we will all show patience as we deal with a phenomenon that is truly unprecedented,” he added.
The cold snap, which has already caused snowstorms around much of Europe, kept temperatures hovering around freezing in Athens on Tuesday but was expected to lift abruptly with highs of 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) expected on Thursday.
Greek railways operator TRAINOSE on Tuesday reported multiple problems on railway lines due to the heavy snow, including accidents involving falling trees and derailments.
TRAINOSE officials said that a large tree next to the railway line between Sfendali and Afidnes fell onto a passing Proastiakos train on the Athens-Halkida line on Monday, with its branches breaking through the windows and spreading broken glass through the carriage.
"Luckily, there were no passengers on the train at the time, otherwise we would be mourning victims. This is the state of the country's railway," a TRAINOSE source told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
On Tuesday there was a minor derailment of a Proastiakos carriage in Acharnes, fortunately without causing any injuries, but the incident has created problems for the network and services on the Athens-Thessaloniki line had to be interrupted for some hours.
There are also problems with the electricity supply to Proastiakos trains to Corinth and Halkida due to power cuts in various areas, so that services must be cancelled or modified. Problems have also arisen with the switches at the junctions, as there is no heated equipment of this type on the Greek railway.
Operation of courts and public prosecutors in Attica suspended due to snow
Justice Minister Konstantinos Tsiaras has issued a decision suspending the operation of all courts and public prosecutors' offices in Attica on Tuesday, due to the snow and bad weather conditions.
Exceptions to the suspension will be made for crimes and misdemeanours that are intercepted in the act and cases of an urgent nature that need to be dealt with immediately.
Major problems in Athens' public transport due to the snowfall
The heavy snowfall in Attica has disrupted the operation of public transport on Tuesday, including the metro system. Line 1 (green line from Piraeus to Kifissia) of the Athens metro is closed and trains on Line 3 (blue line) are only going as far as Doukissis Plakentias Station. Passengers going to the Athens International Airport must then transfer here to the Proastiakos railway trains to complete their journey.
Buses and trolley services are operating only in the southern suburbs of Athens, with vehicles recalled as a safety precaution due to the icy conditions on Tuesday morning.
EYDAP to restore water supply system through generators
Athens Water Supply & Sewerage Company (EYDAP) will use its own power generators to operate water pumping stations put out of commission by the extreme snowfall in the Attica basin, the company said on Tuesday.
These areas include the suburbs of Psychiko, Glyka Nera, Doukissis Plakentias at Penteli, Agia Paraskevi, and Anixi, EYDAP CEO Harris Sachinis told Athens-Macedonian News Agency. A problem at an EYDAP station in Petroupoli has been resolved, while cranes will be used to remove fallen trees blocking the pumping station of Anixi, he added.
ACS courier branches shut down in several prefectures including Attica on Tuesday
ACS courier services shut down its branch offices on Tuesday in the prefectures of Attiki, Boeotia, Evia, and on Andros island due to extreme weather conditions, the company said on the day.
Only ACS vans were allowed out on Tuesday as road conditions are too dangerous for couriers on motorcycles, the company added.