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Turkey ‘gradually’ resumes airport operations after snow causes chaos in Istanbul

Published: Updated:

Europe’s busiest airport in Istanbul was “gradually” resuming normal operations after a blizzard shut it down for a day, the head of Turkish Airlines said on Wednesday.

Istanbul Airport closed on Monday for the first time since it took over from the old Ataturk Airport as the global hub of Turkish Airlines in 2019.

Stranded passengers wait for their flights at Istanbul airport, which is suspending flights due to heavy snowfall, in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2022. (Reuters)
Stranded passengers wait for their flights at Istanbul airport, which is suspending flights due to heavy snowfall, in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2022. (Reuters)

Rescue crews in Istanbul and nearby Athens dug through snow and ice Tuesday to clear paralyzed roads and rescue people stranded overnight in their cars after snowstorms and a massive cold front brought much of Turkey and Greece to a standstill. Two storm-related deaths were reported.

Chaos ensured at the Istanbul International Airport as snow blanketed the country. Airport officials told AFP that only one of the airport’s three runways had been cleared of snow and that de-icing work continued.

A general view of parked planes at Istanbul airport, which is suspending flights due to heavy snowfall, in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2022. (Reuters)
A general view of parked planes at Istanbul airport, which is suspending flights due to heavy snowfall, in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2022. (Reuters)

Although authorities cleared a runway at Istanbul Airport on Tuesday, allowing limited flights to resume, many routes were still cancelled.

This led to mini protests with travelers demanding clarity and temporary accommodation amid a growing crowd.

Social media users shared the chaotic scenes from within the Istanbul airport, where many were seen shouting “We need (a) hotel!”

Further social media updates showed many travelers resorting to sleeping on conveyer belts, the floor and the limited seated across the terminal.

Flights were suspended on Monday for safety reasons at the airport, where the roof of a cargo facility collapsed from the weight of the snow. Istanbul’s second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, was also operating limited services.

Most of the attention focused on Istanbul Airport, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan once hailed as the “pride of our country and example to the world.”

One of the mega-projects built under Erdogan’s two-decade rule, the gleaming glass-and-steel structure handled 37 million passengers last year, becoming Europe’s busiest for the second year running.

But opponents have criticised the airport’s location, which is near the Black Sea coast and 35 kilometers from the city centre, making it exposed to fog and strong winds.

Highways and roads in Istanbul became clogged Monday after the storm pounded the city of 16 million that straddles Europe and Asia, dropping more than 80 centimeters (31 inches) of snow in some areas. Stranded motorists spent the night in their cars, abandoned their vehicles to walk home or crowded subways and other limited public transportation.

General view of vehicles stuck on a highway following a heavy snowfall in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2022. (Reuters)
General view of vehicles stuck on a highway following a heavy snowfall in Istanbul, Turkey January 25, 2022. (Reuters)

However, all highways and main roads in Istanbul were reopened by Tuesday afternoon, Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu announced on Twitter, while Istanbul Gov. Ali Yerlikaya said restrictions on vehicles traveling into Istanbul were lifted.

In Turkey, authorities recovered the body of a 34-year-old who is believed to have died in heavy snowfall while trying to reach his village in Amasya province, 326 kilometers northwest of Ankara, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the snowfall around Istanbul would continue until Thursday and urged people not to venture out in private cars unless necessary. He said many of the stranded vehicles did not have snow tires.

“Nothing is moving. The snow plows can’t even reach us,” Ahmet Odabasi, 40, one of thousands who stranded overnight on a highway west of Istanbul, told The Associated Press.

The severe weather also brought rare snowfall to vacation resorts in Turkey’s southwest region, including Bodrum and Datca, with snow and slippery conditions blocking a highway linking the provinces of Mugla and Denizli. Antalya city center, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, saw its first snowfall in 29 years, the private NTV television reported.

Snow is seen in Pinartepe Neighborhood, Istanbul, Turkey, January 25, 2022, in this still image obtained from a social media video. (Reuters)
Snow is seen in Pinartepe Neighborhood, Istanbul, Turkey, January 25, 2022, in this still image obtained from a social media video. (Reuters)

Authorities in Istanbul suspended intercity bus services Monday and blocked travel to the city from Turkey’s northwestern Thrace region. Civil servants were given leave until Thursday, except for those employed in security, health and transportation sectors. Schools across Turkey were already closed for a winter break and universities decided to close until January 31.

This decision led to a large ‘fun in the snow’ event outside a university.

The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, said the city provided shelter to around 1,500 homeless people. He said he hoped the snow would fill dams and bring relief to the parched region.

Trouble in Athens

The snowstorm, complete with thunder and lightning, also hit the Athens area late Monday morning, the second year in a row that Greece has experienced a freak snowstorm.

Rescue crews freed up to 300 drivers trapped on a major highway that connects the Greek capital with the city’s international airport.

Drivers there had abandoned their cars and walked home. Others had trekked to a nearby train station, jumping over barriers to reach the platform after spending the night in their cars. Train service had been suspended, but a train was sent Tuesday to pick stragglers up.

Abandoned vehicles are covered in snow on the Attiki Odos motorway, following heavy snowfall in Athens, Greece, January 25, 2022. (Reuters)
Abandoned vehicles are covered in snow on the Attiki Odos motorway, following heavy snowfall in Athens, Greece, January 25, 2022. (Reuters)

The army was sent out overnight to deliver food and water to those trapped and to help free as many as possible. Officials said each trapped driver would receive $2,265 in compensation, which the highway administration accepted.

“It was a very difficult night and we faced unprecedented conditions,” Civil Protection and Climate Change Minister Christos Stylianides said. “I want to again express an apology from the state for all the difficulties that the (stranded) drivers faced.”

By Tuesday, the heavy snowfall had mostly stopped but many streets in Athens remained blocked by fallen trees and several northern neighborhoods were without power. Authorities had ordered all but essential businesses shut on Tuesday, and have extended that for Wednesday in the wider Athens area and several other regions.

In the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, police said a homeless man who had been sleeping outdoors was found dead Tuesday. Local authorities said the 60-year-old had refused to relocate to a shelter.

The Balkans was also gripped by freezing weather, with temperatures dropping way below freezing in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia.

Montenegrin authorities said a record national low temperature was confirmed in the northern village of Kosanica, which plunged to minus 33.2 degree celcius. In Bosnia, ice formed on the Miljacka River after a minus 15 degree celcius temperature was recorded in the capital of Sarajevo on Tuesday.

With agencies

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