Snow leaves thousands stranded and sows chaos in Istanbul

ISTANBUL (AP) — Rescue teams were scrambling Tuesday to clear major roads in and around Istanbul jammed after a massive snowstorm hit the city and left countless people and cars stranded overnight in sub-zero temperatures. .

The highways and roads of the city were paralyzed on Monday after the storm that hit Istanbul, a city with some 16 million inhabitants that straddles Europe and Asia. More than 80 centimeters (31 inches) of snow accumulated in some areas.

Stranded drivers either spent the night in their cars, or left them behind and returned home on foot or on crowded subways and public transportation. A lucky few were rescued and taken to hotels.

The City Disaster Coordination Center, or AKOM, said an Icelandic low-pressure system was behind the cold front and rainfall affecting most of the country. The storm has already wreaked havoc in neighboring Greece, where it has brought traffic to a standstill in Athens and put almost all public transport out of service.

Snowfall is expected to continue through Wednesday. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said heavy snowfall could return overnight.

AKOM teams and other units worked through the night to clear roads and highways, but abandoned vehicles hampered their work. Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya asked drivers to return to their cars to move them.

The suspension of flights at Istanbul’s main airport, decreed on Monday, was extended until 1:00 p.m. Tuesday for security reasons, and the governor’s office banned the use of private vehicles until then. The city’s second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, operated with limited services.

“Nothing moves. The snowplows can’t even get to where we are,” Ahmet Odabasi, 40, one of thousands who spent the night stranded on a highway west of Istanbul, told The Associated Press by phone.

“I’ve been stuck here for 12 hours. I am lucky to have gasoline, food and water,” added the driver, who was heading to Istanbul from the city of Edirne, near the Greek border.

AKOM director Selcuk Tutuncu told the AP that “there are more than 1,500 vehicles and 7,000 troops working tirelessly on the ground.”

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