ATHENS (Reuters) – Rescue teams, including the military, worked through the night to evacuate thousands of people trapped in their cars on an Athens highway after a severe snowstorm swept through Greece on Monday , blanketing the capital and causing traffic chaos.

More than 3,500 people had been evacuated by Tuesday morning, some abandoning their cars on foot, but around 1,200 cars remained stuck on the Attiki Odos, the capital’s main ring road, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said.

“We had a very difficult night and a superhuman evacuation effort is underway on Attiki Odos,” Oikonomou told Greek television.

“We are still in a very difficult phase, because the forecast indicates that we will have to face difficulties (weather) again in a while,” he said.

As temperatures plummeted overnight, soldiers distributed food, water and blankets to drivers, some of whom were stuck in their cars for more than 10 hours. Television footage showed the road and vehicles covered in snow.

Political cartoons about world leaders

Authorities declared Tuesday a public holiday, closing public offices and private businesses except supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations in the greater Athens area and on some islands.

Parts of Athens have been hit by power cuts and the grid operator said crews were working to restore power.

Fifteen passengers were injured when a rail transport vehicle attempted to pull a train carrying around 200 passengers which had come to a standstill in heavy snowfall in central Greece.

The storm, named Elpida, was expected to persist through Wednesday.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris, editing by Ed Osmond)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.