Istanbul airport closes as snow blankets southeastern Europe
Istanbul: Europe’s busiest airport closed in Istanbul while schools and vaccination centers closed in Athens as a rare snowstorm blanketed swaths of the eastern Mediterranean region , causing power outages and havoc with traffic.
The closure of Istanbul airport – where the roof of one of the cargo terminals collapsed in heavy snow, causing no injuries – has grounded flights stretching from the Middle East and the Africa to Europe and Asia.
Travel officials told AFP it was the first closure of the gleaming glass and steel structure since it replaced Istanbul’s old Ataturk Airport as a new hub for Turkish Airlines in 2019.
The first snowfall of winter created a jovial atmosphere in the squares of Istanbul’s old mosques, where children built snowmen and tourists posed for selfies.
But it caused a major headache for the 16 million people of Turkey’s biggest city, where cars rammed into each other as they skidded through steep, sleet-covered streets and highways spun in parking lots.
Istanbul’s governor’s office warned drivers they could not enter the city from Thrace – a region stretching across the European part of Turkey to its western border with Bulgaria and Greece .
Malls closed early, food delivery services were shuttered and the city’s iconic “simit” bagel stands were empty as vendors couldn’t make their way through the snow.
Traffic officers also closed major roads in large parts of central and southeastern Turkey, a mountainous region first hit by a snowstorm last week.
Istanbul Airport handled more than 37 million passengers last year, becoming one of the most important air hubs in the world.
But critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have long questioned his decision to place the airport on an isolated area along the Black Sea coast that is often covered in fog in winter.
“Due to adverse conditions, all flights have been temporarily halted for aviation safety reasons,” the airport said in a statement, posting photos of yellow snowplows circling stranded planes on Twitter.
Turkish Airlines announced that it was suspending all flights from Istanbul Airport until at least 4:00 a.m. (01:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
The airport itself said it expected service to resume before midnight.
“Everything is frozen”
Most of Turkey’s main institutions remained open on Monday.
But in Turkey’s Aegean neighbor Greece, where overnight temperatures plummeted to -14 degrees Celsius (6.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the storm suspended a session of parliament and forced schools and vaccination centers to close in Athens.
Thousands of motorists have been trapped in their cars around Athens – many of whom have expressed their anger on TV stations – despite police attempts to close motorway entry points in the northern part of the capital .
“My wife hasn’t eaten anything since morning. We had a small bottle of water between us,” a driver who identified himself only as Christos told private Star TV.
“Everything is frozen.”
A cold snap with sub-zero temperatures and high winds last hit Athens in February 2021, killing four people on the islands of Evia and Crete and leaving tens of thousands of homes without power for days .
Costas Lagouvardos, research director at the National Observatory in Athens, told ANT1 TV that the capital has not seen consecutive winters like this since 1968.
“It’s an extreme condition for our country,” Christos Zerefos, a Greek professor of atmospheric physics, told public broadcaster ERT.
Snow fell in an unusual way on several islands in the Aegean Sea, closing some mountain villages on Andros, Naxos and Tinos, and covering the beaches of Mykonos, in summer a tourist island.