NEWS

Greece in winter’s grip

The weather is not expected to improve much before Christmas Eve. Most of the country labored in the grip of fierce weather conditions yesterday, with well over 500 villages cut off from the rest of Greece by heavy snowfall which also delayed traffic on the national road network and closed down the airports of northern Greece. Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis told a press conference that effectively, the entire country is in a state of emergency. Yesterday, the prefectures of Trikala and Fthiotis in central Greece were officially declared in a state of emergency. In Achaia in the northwestern Peloponnese, most of the problems were due to Sunday’s heavy rainfall and ensuing floods. Police and firemen in Patras continued their day-long search for a father and son – Alexios Antonopoulos, 54, and nine-year-old Yiannis – whose car was carried away by the swollen waters of the Diakoniaris stream bed on the town’s outskirts late on Sunday, but with no results by late yesterday. Hundreds of houses in the area were flooded, while visiting government officials promised to have the course of the Diakoniaris sent underground – a pledge that has been repeated by successive governments over the past 34 years. The floods also incapacitated Patras’s drinking water system. Although the railways were still functioning yesterday, sections of the national highway system were temporarily blocked by snowfall, while in the worst-affected areas – most of northern and central Greece – the network of smaller, provincial roads was completely blocked. Drivers on the Athens-Thessaloniki Highway had to use snow chains at half-a-dozen points – the first of which was as close as Malakassa – covering scores of kilometers, while snow chains were also necessary for vehicles to negotiate the roads up Mt Parnitha on the northwestern outskirts of Athens. Five emergency stations were set up along the highways from Tripolis to Thessaloniki, with snow-clearing machinery and other heavy vehicles in readiness. We are doing our best to keep the national highway system functioning, and get the airports which have been closed working as soon as possible, Minister for Macedonia and Thrace Giorgos Paschalidis told journalists yesterday in Thessaloniki, where temperatures dipped as low as minus four degrees centigrade in what appears to be the coldest winter since 1988. The city center was covered in snow, and the few vehicles on the roads had to use chains. As very few of the public buses had such equipment, the service was all but nonexistent. Schools will be closed today in most of Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, the mountainous parts of central Greece and Evia. Historic island. The Cycladic island of Yaros yesterday was declared a historic site deserving of state protection by Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos. Yaros, used by the government as a place of exile for leftists and dissidents throughout the last century, was chosen for the distinction due to its inextricable link to modern Greek history.