February 18, 2008 / 10:15 AM / 10 years ago

Heavy snowfall, ice wreak havoc in Greece, Turkey

ATHENS (Reuters) - Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures shut down schools, paralyzed traffic and grounded airplanes in Greece and Turkey on Monday.

Greek policemen direct cars during heavy snowfall, on the main motorway linking Athens to northern Greece, February 17, 2008. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Athens was covered in several centimeters of snow and the outskirts were cut off due to heavy snow and ice on the roads following two days of snowfall.

The Acropolis was also covered by a layer of snow, basking in the morning sunshine as temperatures hovered around freezing.

Officials said Athens International Airport struggled to stay open. Since midnight, only three flights managed to land and one to take off due to icy conditions while dozens of cancellations were expected throughout Monday.

Many shops, offices and businesses remained closed for the day with only a handful of pedestrians walking the streets of the city centre as cars needed snow chains.

In Turkey, where snowfall and subzero temperatures forced the closure of schools and universities across much of the country, the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul was closed to transit shipping in the north-south direction since Sunday morning, the coast guard said.

The strait is the only navigable waterway between the oil-shipping ports on the Black Sea and the Aegean.

“Like Siberia,” read the headline in Turkey’s Takvim newspaper, above pictures of snow ploughs, heavily wrapped-up pedestrians and a grounded airplane at Istanbul airplane.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded around Turkey, some major roads were closed, thousands of villages were cut off and at least two people froze to death on Sunday and Monday, Turkish media reported.

The capital Ankara witnessed 355 traffic accidents over the past 24 hours and nearly 30 people were injured, private broadcaster NTV said. Temperatures in Ankara were expected to remain below zero until Wednesday.

In Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city, the bad weather caused more than 500 accidents.

Snow also made a rare appearance on the island of Crete early on Monday, while dozens of villages on the island of Evia and central Greece were cut off.

In mountainous eastern Turkey, night temperatures plunged to minus 20 degrees Celsius, and even parts of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast — normally clement in the winter months — experienced rare snowfall.

Additional reporting by Gareth Jones; Writing by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia

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