Snowstorm strands thousands of motorists in Greece and Turkey

Hundreds of cars and trucks blocked on a main road at Istanbul. Credit: AP

Countless motorists in Turkey and Greece have been stranded overnight in freezing conditions after a massive cold front and snowstorms hit much of the two countries. Highways and roads in and around Turkey's capital, Istanbul, became clogged on Monday after the storm pounded the city of about 16 million people. Parts of Istanbul accumulated more than 80cm of snow.

A couple walks past a fallen tree on a parked vehicle in Athens. Credit: AP

Stranded motorists either spent the night in cars, abandoned their vehicles to walk home or crowded subways and other public transport. Rescue teams worked overnight to clear snowy roads and highways, but abandoned vehicles hampered their operations. Istanbul's governor Ali Yerlikaya urged motorists to return to their vehicles and move them.

Athens' ancient Acropolis hill is covered with snow. Credit: AP

In Athens, rescue crews were still trying to free around 200-300 drivers trapped on a major highway that runs across Athens and connects the Greek capital with the city’s international airport. Some drivers similarly abandoned their cars and walked home. Others trekked to a nearby train station, jumping over the barriers at the side of the road to reach the platform after spending the night in their cars. The train service had been suspended, but a train was there on Tuesday morning to pick up those who had made it to the station from the highway.

Abandoned vehicles on a motorway in Athens.

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 Coordination Center, or AKOM, says an Icelandic low-pressure system is behind the cold front and precipitation affecting most of the country.

People throw snowballs at a snow-covered park in Istanbul. Credit: 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 weren't fitted with snow tires. 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 Adil Karaismailoglu, the transport minister, said limited flights would resume soon. Istanbul’s second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, was also operating limited services.

A Greek truck driver shovels snow after being trapped for hours on a motorway. Credit: AP

Authorities in Greece had warned people to limit their movements to the essential only 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. Some of the problems were reportedly caused by trucks that slipped and jack-knifed across the road, blocking traffic. Officials said the Greek prime minister contacted the highway’s administration and asked for each trapped driver to receive €2,000 (£1,675) in compensation, which the highway administration accepted.