Heavy snow paralyses Greek capital, crews struggling to free stranded drivers

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ATHENS, Jan 24 (Reuters) - A blanket of heavy snow covered the Greek capital on Monday, from the Acropolis hill to the coast in the south, disrupting air traffic, bringing transport to a halt and leaving scores of drivers stranded overnight in a highway.

Rescue crews struggled to free hundreds of drivers whose cars halted for hours on an Athens ring road as the storm, named Elpida, swept Greece and covered the city with a thick layer of snow.

Greek media showed footage of soldiers handing out food, water and blankets to some of the drivers as the temperature fell overnight.

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Heavy snowfall is rare in Athens but the city has now been hit by snowstorms for a second consecutive year.

Fifteen passengers were injured when a rail transport vehicle tried to pull a train carrying about 200 passengers which had halted in heavy snow in central Greece.

Two of the injured were in serious condition, a police official said.

Train and bus services in the capital were suspended. COVID-19 vaccination facilities in the wider Athens region and on the nearby island of Evia were closed, health officials said.

State services, schools, non-essential shops and banks in those two areas and on many Greek islands, including Crete, will also be shut on Tuesday as the cold spell was expected to persist until Wednesday.

"It will be a difficult night," said Christos Stylianides, Greece's climate crisis and civil protection minister.

Greek carrier Aegean Airlines (AGNr.AT) cancelled all but five flights on Monday and said it expected schedules to be disrupted on Tuesday and possibly Wednesday.

Turkish authorities also had to halt flights at Istanbul Airport due to heavy snowfall, while the weather snarled transportation across the country. read more

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Reporting by Vassilis Triandafyllou, Alkis Konstantinidis, Stamos Prousalis, Angeliki Koutantou, Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Sandra Maler and Stephen Coates

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