NEWS

How a snowstorm paralyzed Attica

Lack of clear authority and coordination, hesitation to act decisively, poor execution to blame

How a snowstorm paralyzed Attica

A week after a snowstorm paralyzed the Attica region, Greece’s most populous, a pretty clear picture has emerged as to what caused this, and it was not just the uncommonly harsh weather event.

Insufficient coordination, reluctance to overreach on measures, a not-so-clear sense of how severe the weather would turn out and, once again, the failure of an incredibly stilted bureaucracy to provide clear lines of authority and oversight, were mostly to blame. Also, the Regional Authority of Attica and the operator of the Attiki Odos highway, respectively, failed in their mission.

Politically, the insufficient response led to a censure motion tabled by the main opposition SYRIZA party, a motion almost certainly doomed to failure (Kathimerini went to print before Sunday night’s vote), but which, government officials believe, is the signal for a long and rough pre-election period, even though an election would not normally be due before July 2023.

Last September, the government nominally upgraded its emergency response structure by creating the Ministry for Climate Crisis and Civil Protection and drafting Greek-Cypriot politician Christos Stylianides, widely considered a success as European commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management from 2014 until 2019 and, briefly before that, as the European Union’s Ebola coordinator. Several months later, the ministry lacks the legal power to decide and enforce, or even oversee the emergency response; its role remains purely advisory.

Officials contacted by Kathimerini say that, in a meeting on the eve of the snowstorm, Attiki Odos and other private operators had agreed to ban heavy vehicles from their roads on Sunday night, but that Citizens’ Protection Ministry officials were hesitant, fearing a disruption in logistics and citing a precedent where similar precautions proved unnecessary, raising a storm of criticism.

Last Monday, while traffic police and the operator of Greece’s main north-south highway agreed to ban trucks from 8 a.m., Attiki Odos officials dithered, not enforcing a ban on trucks until 2 p.m., and a general ban at 4 p.m., when thousands of vehicles were already at a standstill.

To compound that, access roads to Attiki Odos were impassable, which was the regional government’s fault. The vehicles it sent to clear the exits ran out of fuel.