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Snowstorm strands thousands in Istanbul and Athens

Rescue teams worked overnight to clear snowy roads and motorways.

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An abandoned vehicle, is seen in an motorway way after a snowstorm, in Athens, on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Army and fire service teams were deployed late Monday to extract hundreds of motorists trapped for hours in snowed-in cars. A snowstorm of rare severity disrupted road and air traffic Monday in the Greek capital of Athens and neighboring Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul, while most of Greece, including — unusually — several Aegean islands, and much of Turkey were blanketed by snow. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

An abandoned vehicle, is seen in an motorway way after a snowstorm, in Athens, on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Army and fire service teams were deployed late Monday to extract hundreds of motorists trapped for hours in snowed-in cars. A snowstorm of rare severity disrupted road and air traffic Monday in the Greek capital of Athens and neighboring Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul, while most of Greece, including — unusually — several Aegean islands, and much of Turkey were blanketed by snow. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

An abandoned vehicle, is seen in an motorway way after a snowstorm, in Athens, on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Army and fire service teams were deployed late Monday to extract hundreds of motorists trapped for hours in snowed-in cars. A snowstorm of rare severity disrupted road and air traffic Monday in the Greek capital of Athens and neighboring Turkey’s largest city of Istanbul, while most of Greece, including — unusually — several Aegean islands, and much of Turkey were blanketed by snow. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

Rescue crews in Istanbul and Athens are scrambling to clear roads that came to a standstill after a massive cold front and snowstorms hit much of Turkey and Greece, leaving countless people and vehicles in both cities stranded overnight in freezing conditions.

Roads in and around Istanbul became clogged on Monday after the storm pounded the city of about 16 million people which straddles the European and Asian continents, with more than 80cm (31in) of snow in some areas.

Stranded motorists spent the night in cars, abandoned their vehicles to walk home or crowded subways and other public transport.

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Hundreds of cars and trucks block a main road in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Hundreds of cars and trucks block a main road in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Hundreds of cars and trucks block a main road in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Rescue teams worked overnight to clear snowy roads, but abandoned vehicles hampered their operations. Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya urged motorists to return to their vehicles and move them.

In Athens, rescue crews were still trying to free around 200 to 300 drivers trapped on a major motorway that runs across Athens and connects the Greek capital with the city’s international airport.

The army was sent out overnight to deliver food and water to those trapped and to help free as many as possible.

Istanbul’s Disaster Co-ordination Center (AKOM) said an Icelandic low-pressure system was behind the cold front and precipitation affecting most of the country.

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Snow in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Snow in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Snow in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Interior minister Suleyman Soylu said the snowfall in and 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 were not fitted with snow tyres.

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Authorities suspended flights at Istanbul Airport — where the roof of a cargo facility collapsed from the weight of the snow on Monday — over safety concerns, but transport minister Adil Karaismailoglu said limited flights would resume soon.

Authorities in Greece had warned people to limit their movements to the essential and to use snow chains on city streets, but many people had set out for work in the morning when the snowfall was much lighter and became trapped in their cars as the day wore on.

The snowstorm, complete with thunder and lightning, hit the wider Athens area late in the morning on Monday, dumping large amounts of snow on the city.

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Abandoned vehicles in Athens (Michael Varaklas/AP)

Abandoned vehicles in Athens (Michael Varaklas/AP)

Abandoned vehicles in Athens (Michael Varaklas/AP)

Last year, similar weather in February left tens of thousands of trees felled by the weight of the snow on city streets, parks and woodland around Athens.

Officials said the Greek prime minister contacted the highways administration and asked for each trapped driver to receive 2,000 euros (£1,674) in compensation, which the agency accepted.

The severe weather also brought rare snowfall to holiday resorts in Turkey’s south west, including Bodrum and Datca, with snow and slippery conditions blocking a motorway linking the provinces of Mugla and Denizli.

Antalya city centre, on the Mediterranean coast, saw its first snowfall in 29 years, NTV television reported.


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