Heavy snowfall paralyses Istanbul

Heavy snowfall paralyses Istanbul

Istanbul (AFP) - A heavy snowstorm paralysed life in Istanbul on Saturday, with hundreds of flights cancelled and the Bosphorus closed to shipping traffic.

Almost 65 centimetres (25 inches) of snow fell on parts of the Turkish metropolis overnight and during the day, causing havoc on roads as travellers sought to leave the city for the weekend.

For those not travelling, the snow provided a rare chance to see Istanbul's famous minaret and dome-studded skyline cloaked in white.

Flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) cancelled some 610 flights from the main Ataturk International Airport as well as from Sabiha Gokcen airport, with the snow causing poor visibility and high winds.

Rival carrier Pegasus cancelled 192 flights out of Istanbul. Turkish Airlines also cancelled 62 flights scheduled for Sunday.

Four THY intercontinental flights -- from India, the Maldives, South Africa and Vietnam -- bound for Istanbul were diverted to the southern city of Gaziantep north of Syria, the Dogan news agency said.

Some 76 incoming flights were diverted to other airports.

Almost 6,000 travellers are being accommodated in hotels in Istanbul after their flights were cancelled, reports said.

Coastguards also ordered a halt to shipping traffic in both directions through the Bosphorus Strait -- one of the world's busiest sea thoroughfares.

The municipal ferry company Sehir Hatlari which handles the regular passenger crossings between the European and Asian sides of the city announced that all its routes had been suspended for the day.

The metro in Istanbul will meanwhile operate all night to compensate for the difficulties on the city's roads.

Forecasters predicted that the snowstorm would continue throughout the day before dwindling in the evening. Temperatures were expected to stay well below freezing in the days to come.