Greek government under fire as power outages persist through cold front

ATHENS (AFP) – Anger against the Greek government mounted on Friday (Feb 19) as thousands of households in Athens remained without electricity, as a severe cold front that left four dead receded.

The state power distribution network operator said it was still working to restore power to some 3,500 households in several northern Athens suburbs. Some of the worst problems are in the municipality of Dionysos, which has declared a state of emergency.

Residents, many of whom are also without running water, have reported melting down snow for drinking and cooking, and cooling their perishable food outdoors. “Nobody will go home until power has been restored to the last home,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday.

Broadsides on Friday came from both the left and right. Leftist Efsyn daily said Mitsotakis’ responsibilities were “written in snow” while liberal Kathimerini accused the state of “taking half a century to sort out who is responsible for trimming trees”.

Among prominent critics is a former conservative minister, Mr Stefanos Manos, who tweeted that he had been without electricity for more than three days.

Mitsotakis said the cold front, dubbed “Medea” after the mythical Greek sorceress of the Argonauts, was “one of the most severe in the last 40 years”, according to experts. “It was snowing for 36 hours in the greater Athens area and at the same time, we had extremely strong wind… every two minutes a tree fell on power lines,” he said.

Four people died during the cold front which moved in over the weekend, and hit the capital from Monday onwards. Three of them died on the island of Evia near Athens and one on the island of Crete.

Greek mayors have accused the grid operator – which is up for privatisation – of bungling its response to the emergency. But officials acknowledge that red tape and local opposition routinely complicate efforts to take preventive action.

“It’s not so easy to cut trees, there are local protests,” Mr Dimitris Papastergiou, head of the central union of Greek municipalities, told ERT state television. A simple procedure to clear a river of deadwood can take six months or more because of bureaucratic requirements, he added.