by Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, Jan. 8 (Xinhua)-- Greece was gripped on Sunday by a snow front which was the second hitting the country in two weeks, with temperatures plummeting to minus 19 degrees Celsius in some mountainous regions in the north.
No casualties have been reported from the cold snap which sweeps throughout Greece since Friday.
Traffic has been disrupted in national roads in the south for several hours for safety reasons. Motorists were advised to avoid driving if not necessary or use snow chains in many roads while schools will remain closed in the areas most affected by the snow.
Meteorologists forecast that the icy conditions will ease on Monday before a new cold front emerges later this week.
According to the Civil Protection Authority, among the areas hit the hardest were the Greek islands of Skopelos and Alonissos in the western Aegean where a state of emergency was declared.
With up to two meters of snow, villages have been cut off, and there was no electricity or water, as water pipes were frozen and burst, and pumps were unable to function.
Similar problems were reported in suburbs of Thessaloniki port city, as well as the city of Ptolemaida in northern Greece.
The authorities nationwide have opened more shelters to the homeless and reassured to help refugee or migrants.
On Friday, the UN refugee agency UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards made a plea from Geneva, calling on the Greek government and EU officials to do more to move refugees from the Greek islands to the mainland and speed up the EU relocation program launched in late 2015.
About 15,000 refugees and migrants are currently stranded on the Northern Aegean Sea islands out of the 62,500 people stuck in Greece after the closure of the Balkan route to central Europe last February, according to the latest official figures released by the Greek government on Sunday.
Despite efforts to improve their living conditions, the situation in particular amidst harsh weather conditions was difficult, the UNHCR stressed.
Under an EU-Turkey agreement sealed last spring to curb the migration influx into Europe, new arrivals on the Greek islands after March are held in hotspots until their asylum bids are examined.
Those non-eligible for asylum are returned to Turkey, but delays in the assessment of asylum requests have caused overcrowding.