ISTANBUL // A heavy snowstorm brought Istanbul to a standstill on Saturday, with hundreds of flights cancelled and the Bosphorus closed to shipping.
The storm dropped about 40 centimetres of snow in parts of the Turkish metropolis overnight, causing havoc on roads as travellers sought to leave the city for the weekend getaway.
The weather was part of a cold spell across Europe that has killd at least 20 people in two days, with the frigid temperatures expected to continue through the weekend.
The treacherous in Istanbul conditions left many stranded overnight. Some spent ten hours or more in their vehicles waiting for conditions to improve but many drivers abandoned their cars and set off on foot.
The municipal authorities reported dozens of accidents by vehicles sliding on icy surfaces and the underground train system operated through the night.
Turkish Airlines cancelled hundreds of flights in and out of the city’s main Ataturk airport and dozens of planes were diverted to other airports because of the heavy snowfall, which began on Friday evening.
About 6,000 of its passengers had to be accommodated in hotels due to the cancellations and 20,000 meals were distributed to those stranded at the airport.
Pegasus Airlines cancelled some 200 flights in and out of Sabiha Gokcen airport, on the Asian side of the city.
The Bosphorus strait, which runs through Istanbul, and the Dardanelles strait further south were closed to transit shipping due to poor visibility on Saturday morning.
The straits are some of the world’s busiest channels for the maritime transit of oil, carrying more than three per cent of global supply, mainly from Russia and the Caspian Sea.
The waterways, connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, also carry large quantities of grain from Russia and Kazakhstan to world markets.
The municipal ferry company Sehir Hatlari, which handles the regular passenger crossings between the European and Asian sides of the city, announced that all its routes had been suspended for the day.
For those not travelling, the snow provided a rare chance to see Istanbul’s famous minaret and dome-studded skyline caked in a white layer of snow.
Forecasters predicted that the snowstorm would continue throughout the day before dwindling in the evening. Temperatures well below freezing are expected in the days to come.
Meanwhile, in Bulgaria on Friday the frozen bodies of two Iraqi migrants were discovered by villagers in a mountain forest in the south-east of the country near the border with Turkey.
Greece likewise has seen fierce cold weather this past week. In the north near the Turkish frontier a 20-year-old Afghan migrant died of the cold on Tuesday.
With more than 60,000 mainly Syrian refugees on its territory, Greece has moved many migrants to prefabricated houses and heated tents.
Russia celebrated the coldest Orthodox Christmas in 120 years with temperatures in Moscow falling to minus 30°C overnight.
Ten of the latest victims of the cold perished in Poland where sub-freezing conditions remain with minus 14°C forecast on Saturday.
In Italy in the past 48 hours the cold has been blamed for seven deaths, including five homeless people.
* Agence France Presse