A severe snowstorm has battered Greece and its normally sun-soaked islands, with the main opposition leader calling on conservative prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to resign after thousands of people were left trapped on a motorway.
The call to resign came from former prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his main oppostion party Syriza - which also called for Cabinet ministers to step down - came after motorists, many of them senior citizens, called into radio and television stations, crying for help and assistance, after being stuck for up to 20 hours on Attiki Odos, a 65-kilometre (40-mile) motorway close to Athens.
The snowstorm hit on Monday night, causing chaos.
“Please, please, please,” cried Michalis, a 75-year-old driver, “Please, show us some mercy. Help us. We are freezing. We have been left without any petrol, nothing to tie us over.”
Rescue crews working overnight managed to evacuate some 3,500 drivers on the privately-run motorway, authorities said on Tuesday.
But at least 1,200 others remained stuck, and thousands more struggled on other roads and highways snaking through Athens, home to half the country’s population of 11 million.
Fifteen passengers, meanwhile, were injured when a rail transport vehicle tried to pull a train carrying more than 200 passengers in heavy snow.
And much of the Greek capital has been left without heat and electricity, sending hundreds of families streaming to their cars to keep warm as temperatures continued to dip below freezing levels.
“This has been a 24-hour show of complete chaos for the country and complete and utter torment for its people,” Mr Tsipras said.
“Mr Mitsotakis, who is responsible for this mess, is nowhere to be seen. The quicker this government resigns, the faster they will leave; the better for this country.”
On Wednesday, the prime minister offered a “personal and sincere apology” for those who Greeks who had suffered during the storms. Motorists affected could receive compensation from the private company which runs the toll road where drivers were stuck. The head of the company has resigned in the wake of the incident.
The severe snowstorm, named Elpis, has been battering the country since the start of the week, disrupting air, road and rail traffic, as well as nearby countries, and is the latest example of extreme weather in Greece.
Snowfall is common in the Greek highlands but rare in the centre of Athens and the country’s islands.
A two-day holiday ordered for six storm-hit regions of the country, keeping schools, state services and banks shut, was due to extended by an additional 24-hours, including the greater Athens area, officials said.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies