ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek army and municipal crews removed hundreds of vehicles Wednesday that had been stranded in snow for three days along a road linking Athens to its international airport, as authorities struggled to clear blocked thoroughfares and restore power to blacked out parts of the capital.
In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, road and air traffic was returning to normal, but snow still covered large swathes of the metropolis of 16 million people.
Heavy snowfall has caused major disruptions this week in Greece and neighboring Turkey, halting flights, blocking highways and causing power outages.
Snow blanketed Athens and much of the country on Monday, leaving thousands of drivers trapped on major roads in the Greek capital for hours, with many forced to spend the night in their cars.
Countless motorists were also stranded for several hours on highways around Istanbul while flights in and out of Istanbul Airport, one of Europe's busiest travel hubs, were suspended. The airport said Wednesday that it was slowly returning to its normal operations with a total of 681 landings and takeoffs scheduled.
The snowstorm however, rekindled debate over the location of Istanbul Airport — one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s megaprojects – that replaced Ataturk International Airport as the city’s main airport when it opened in 2019.
Critics say the new airport’s location near Black Sea is not suitable for an airfield. It also has no metro service, making access difficult, and no nearby hotels to accommodate stranded passengers. On Tuesday, hundreds of stranded passengers staged a protest at the airport chanting: “We need (a) hotel!”
In Greece, many city streets were still impassable on Wednesday. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis offered a “personal and sincere apology” to the stranded drivers during a Cabinet meeting, but he blamed the road's private operators for mishandling the reaction to the storm.
In Turkey, the snowstorm led to recriminations, with members of Erdogan’s government and the opposition-run municipality trading blame for the chaos while praising their own disaster management efforts.
Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a popular opposition politician touted as a possible rival to Erdogan in elections slated for 2023, offered an apology on Wednesday to the thousands of people for their “suffering” on Istanbul’s roads. He rejected criticism, however, for meeting the British ambassador for dinner during the crisis.