Greece emerges from big freeze

A considerable rise in temperatures yesterday caused most of the weekend’s snow in the center of Athens to melt, freeing the roads to traffic and allowing Athenians to go back to work. But traffic on secondary roads in the northern suburbs was still hampered by snow and slush. Even work-shy civil servants, for the most part, turned up at their offices. According to Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis, some 60-65 percent of public sector employees went to work yesterday. «There will be no repercussions whatsoever for those whose absence can be explained,» he said. Speaking to journalists after chairing an interministerial committee on the weekend blizzards, Prime Minister Costas Simitis brushed aside criticism – voiced by all sections of the press over the past three days and by opposition New Democracy yesterday – of state inefficiency in coping with the weather. «We believe the state system functioned, and, to a very large extent, it functioned satisfactorily,» he said, adding that Greeks should be more self-sufficient. «We can, and must, have an even more efficient system… Greek society must also realize its abilities and responsibilities. We must not expect everything from other people.» The storms were some of the worst since 1963. Skandalidis said efforts were focusing on northeastern Attica, where there were still problems regarding electricity and water supply, while some areas were still not fully accessible. Attica, the neighboring provinces of Boeotia and Evia, and the province of Rethymnon on Crete were declared in a state of emergency, due to record snowfall over the weekend. As the cold front moved southeast yesterday, the area of Hania on Crete was also declared in a state of emergency with dozens of villages cut off by snowdrifts. Yesterday, the Education Ministry added Crete to the areas of Attica, Boeotia and Evia where schools will be closed until Thursday due to the weather, instead of opening today after the Christmas holidays. After a three-day ban, all ships were allowed to sail as of 6 p.m. yesterday from the ports of Piraeus and Rafina for the Aegean islands and Crete. Transport Minister Christos Verelis said flights resumed as of 9 a.m. yesterday at Athens International Airport after three days of delays and cancellations. Even so, according to airport General Manager Matthias Mittscherlisch, by noon only 170 of the 470 planned flights had taken place. He blamed the weekend chaos – which had hundreds of passengers spend up to two days at the airport waiting for their flights to materialize – on airlines and ground service companies. The weather is forecast to improve today, and even more on Thursday and Friday. But temperatures will remain below freezing at night in parts of Attica until Saturday.

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