Rare Mediterranean snowstorm shuts Istanbul Airport, flight operations affected

Europe’s busiest airport shut down in Istanbul as a rare snowstorm blanketed swathes of the eastern Mediterranean region, causing blackouts and traffic havoc.

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

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

“Due to adverse conditions, all flights at Istanbul Airport have been temporarily stopped for flight safety,” the airport said in a statement on Twitter.

The shutdown dealt a major headache to the 16 million residents of Turkey’s largest city, where cars ploughed into each other skidding down steep, sleet-covered streets and highways turned into parking lots.

The Istanbul governor’s office warned drivers they would not be able to enter the city from Thrace, a region stretching across the European part of Turkey to its western border with Bulgaria and Greece.

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

Traffic officials also closed major roads across large parts of central and southeastern Turkey, a mountainous region first hit by a snowstorm last week.

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

But critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 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 the winter.

Turkish Airlines said it was suspending all Istanbul Airport flights until at least 4:00am on Tuesday.