Greece in deep freeze

Greece came to a standstill yesterday as blizzards and strong winds swept across the country and temperatures stayed below freezing, closing airports, blocking roads and keeping ships in port. In Athens, the international airport was closed, few buses and trolley buses were on the streets, schools did not open and only cars using snow chains were able to drive down many thoroughfares. Authorities advised people to stay off the roads as much as possible and to drive only with snow chains. The temperature in central Athens dropped to minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 Fahrenheit) and maximum temperatures did not exceed minus 2 degrees Celsius (28.5 Fahrenheit). This made it the coldest spell in the past 100 years, according to Dimitris Ziakopoulos, head of forecasts at the National Meteorological Service. Temperatures are expected to drop further today, increasing the danger of icy roads. The lowest temperature recorded yesterday was minus 13 degrees Celsius (8.6 Fahrenheit) in Florina and Kozani in northern Greece. It could drop as low as -18 (-4 Fahrenheit) there today and -7 degrees (19.5 Fahrenheit) in Athens’s northern suburbs. A state of emergency was declared on the whole of Crete and all vehicles except for ambulances and other emergency vehicles were banned from its roads due to blizzards. Gavdos, an island which is the southernmost tip of Europe, saw snow for the first time in 62 years, locals said. Hundreds of villages across Greece were isolated because of blocked roads. Athens International Airport opened last night after being closed throughout the day, state television reported. But the two Greek airlines, Olympic and Aegean, have canceled many flights for today. Thirteen regional airports remained closed. Passengers were advised to call their airlines before going to the airport. Driving to the airport too was difficult as only vehicles using snow chains could get through Attiki Odos. The Athens Metro worked through the day and the Piraeus-Kifissia railway functioned partially in the morning and fully later in the day and night. The Hellenic Railways Organization was Athens’s lifeline with the rest of the country, laying on nine more trains. Hundreds of people were trapped for hours in 450 cars at Schimatari and another 100 at Seirio on the Athens-Thessaloniki highway. Emergency services, which were working around the clock, and soldiers in armored personnel carriers helped get drivers out. Hospitals and clinics throughout the country were on alert. PASOK leader George Papandreou and New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis visited trapped drivers and civil defense authorities.