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Heavy snowfall blanketing İstanbul paralyzes life in the city

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Heavy snowfall in İstanbul has proven a major headache for the 16 million residents of Turkey’s largest city, where cars plowed into each other on steep, sleet-covered streets and highways turned into parking lots, Agence France-Presse reported.

Snow continued until the early hours of Tuesday in İstanbul, facing its worst snowfall in years, which has paralyzed traffic in the city where drivers who ignored warnings against travel were stranded on main roads for hours.

The storm also blocked roads across central and southeastern Turkey, although most of the country’s main businesses stayed open.

Across the country, some 4,600 people were left stranded on roads and elsewhere, and thousands had been placed in temporary housing, the Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD) said.

Passengers protest after Turkish Airlines extended suspension of flights until midnight

Although İstanbul Airport, Europe’s busiest, welcomed its first flight in 24 hours on Tuesday, tweeting an image of the first flight since Monday afternoon landing from Caracas after one of the runways was cleared to accept a few flights, Turkish Airlines decided to suspend operations at its main international hub until midnight.

All the main scheduled international departures were either canceled or delayed for a second day running, while İstanbul’s second airport near the Sea of Marmara stayed open throughout the storm, AFP said.

Numerous passengers stuck aboard stranded flights who were given only sandwiches a day earlier, on Tuesday took to Twitter to air their grievances with the airport’s customer service and lack of updates.

“Not even a bottle of water offered. Zero concern for women with children,” Chris Wiggett tweeted. “Not even blankets for stranded passengers at night.”

Images and videos tweeted from inside the packed airport on Tuesday showed a frustrated crowd chanting “We need a hotel.”

“We’ve been stuck in İstanbul airport for 30 hours with no help or answers from Turkish Airlines. Passengers are starting to protest,” another Twitter user said, using the hashtag #getusout.

“Passengers who have been stuck at the #Erdoğan government’s vanity airport project in #Istanbul for over 30 hours stage a protest. This is a rare case of a protest in #Turkey that didn’t end with police brutality, since the riot police’s water cannons were also stuck in the snow,” Aykan Erdemir, the Turkey program senior director at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted on Tuesday.

The criticism on social media started earlier in the day after the arrival at İstanbul Airport of Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Adil Karaismailoğlu and AFAD president Yunus Sezer on the order of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while the airport was closed to civilian flights.

The closure of İstanbul Airport — where the roof of one of the cargo terminals collapsed under heavy snow on Monday, causing no injuries — grounded flights stretching from the Middle East and Africa to Europe and Asia.

Travel officials told AFP it marked the glass-and-steel structure’s first shutdown since it replaced İstanbul’s old Atatürk Airport as the new hub for Turkish Airlines in 2019.

İstanbul Airport serviced more than 37 million passengers last year, becoming one of the world’s most important air hubs.

However, critics of Erdoğan 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 winter, AFP said.

According to local media reports, İstanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya took the rare step of banning the use of private cars until 1000 GMT (1 p.m. local time) as emergency teams cleared streets, while many public workers were granted administrative leave to keep commutes to a minimum.

The governor’s office had also announced that e-scooters were banned from traffic for Monday, while motorcycle couriers, who play a crucial role in the delivery of food and basic items during bad weather, were also banned from traffic on Monday.

Shopping malls closed early, food delivery services shut down and the city’s iconic “simit” bagel stalls stood empty because suppliers could not get through the snow.

Winter’s first snowstorm, which hit İstanbul over the weekend, also created a fun atmosphere across the squares of Istanbul’s ancient mosques, where children built snowmen and tourists posed for selfies, AFP said.

A video posted on social media showed a man skiing through city streets late on Monday, with people waving as he passed, local media reports said, adding that far away in Turkey’s south, snow fell on the beaches of the resort city of Antalya for the first time in 29 years.

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