Europe’s busiest airport shut down in Istanbul while schools and vaccination centres closed in Athens as a rare snowstorm blanketed swathes of the eastern Mediterranean region, causing blackouts and traffic havoc.
The closure of Istanbul Airport, where the roof of one of the cargo terminals collapsed under the heavy snow, causing no injuries, grounded flights stretching from the Middle East and Africa to Europe and Asia on Monday.
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Travel officials told AFP news agency it marked the gleaming glass-and-steel structure’s first shutdown since it replaced Istanbul’s old Ataturk Airport as the new hub for Turkish Airlines in 2019.
“Due to adverse conditions, all flights at Istanbul Airport have been temporarily stopped for flight safety,” the airport said in a statement on Twitter.
Our teams are carrying out cleaning works on the apron, runway and taxiway to resume flight operations. ✈️ Despite adverse weather conditions and heavy snowfall our work continues at full speed. 🌨️ pic.twitter.com/3Xlc3CzYVy
— İGA Istanbul Airport (@igairport) January 24, 2022
The shutdown dealt a major headache to the 16 million residents of Turkey’s largest city, where cars ploughed into each other skidding down steep, sleet-covered streets and highways turned into parking lots.
The Istanbul governor’s office warned drivers they would not be able to enter the city from Thrace, a region stretching across the European part of Turkey to its western border with Bulgaria and Greece.
Shopping malls closed early, food delivery services shut down and the city’s iconic “simit” bagel stalls stood empty because suppliers could not make their way through the snow.
Traffic officials also closed major roads across large parts of central and southeastern Turkey, a mountainous region first hit by a snowstorm last week.
Istanbul Airport serviced more than 37 million passengers last year, becoming one of the word’s most important air hubs.
But critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had long questioned his decision to place the airport on a remote patch along the Black Sea coast that is often covered with fog in the winter.
Turkish Airlines said it was suspending all Istanbul Airport flights until at least 4am (01:00 GMT) on Tuesday.
‘Difficult’ situation in Greece
In Greece, the health ministry announced that COVID-19 vaccination centres in the wider Athens region of Attica and on the nearby island of Evia would close at 3pm (13:00 GMT) on Monday and would remain closed on Tuesday because of the heavy snowfall.
Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said weather conditions would continue to be “difficult” on Tuesday.
Authorities warned the public to limit outdoor movements to only essential ones on Monday and Tuesday, while schools in many areas were closed.
Oikonomou said more than 46,000 school classes across the country were being held online.
Several domestic and international flights to Athens airport were cancelled, while subway service to the airport was partially suspended as some of it runs above ground.
A cold snap with sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds last hit Athens in February 2021, killing four people on the islands of Evia and Crete and leaving tens of thousands of households without electricity for days.