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In Athens, rare snow blankets Acropolis, halts vaccinations

Snow covers the ancient Acropolis hill in Athens, Tuesday, Feb.16, 2021. Unusually heavy snowfall has blanketed central Athens, with authorities warning residents particularly in the Greek capital's northern and eastern suburbs to avoid leaving their homes. (Antonis Nikolopoulos/Eurokinissi via AP)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Heavy snowfall has blanketed the Acropolis and other ancient monuments in Athens and halted COVID-19 vaccinations in the Greek capital Tuesday as many services across the country were brought to a standstill.

The snow, an unusual sight in the city of more than 3 million residents, also stopped most public transport services, while toppled trees caused blackouts in several mountainside suburbs.

Sections of Greece’s main highway were also closed and most ferry services to the islands were canceled, and flights from regional airports to Athens were disrupted.

Fire Service spokesman Vassilis Vathrakoyiannis said the service had received more than 600 calls for assistance in greater Athens.

“The calls mainly concerned downed trees and transporting people stuck in their vehicles to a safe place, but also to transport kidney dialysis patients to receive treatment,” he told state TV.

“Vaccinations have been postponed but we have helped transport doctors and medical staff where they are needed and we helped power technicians get to damaged electricity pylons in areas where access was difficult,” he said.

Power and water cuts were also reported in central Greece, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was meeting with emergency response leaders to assist residents in blacked-out areas and villages cut off by the snow.

Snow is common in Greece’s mountains and in the north of the country, but much rarer in the capital, particularly heavy snow. On balconies and in the streets, some Athenians emerged cautiously outside, snapping photos.

The snow arrived as Athens and several other parts of Greece remain in lockdown due to a recent rise in coronavirus infections. The lockdown has closed schools, most stores, and kept residents indoors during a nightly curfew.

Some children skipped online classes Tuesday to play in the snow.

Outside parliament, in the city center, orange-colored snowplows cleared streets of ice and snow, while presidential guards, dressed in traditional pleated kilts and pompom-tipped shoes, were given heavy woolen overcoats to brave the cold.

The cold snap, which has already caused snowstorms around much of Europe, kept temperatures hovering around freezing in Athens on Tuesday but was expected to lift abruptly with highs of 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahrenheit) expected on Thursday.