Ankara, Jan 25: A rare snowstorm brought the Greek capital Athens to a standstill on Monday.
Flights were also grounded at Istanbul airport in Turkey.
Large parts of both countries were covered in a blanket of snow, an unusual occurrence for the southern Mediterranean countries, but the second time that it has happened in two years.
The snow brought down the roof of one of the buildings at Istanbul’s major air traffic hub, grounding flights to and from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
However, Athens appeared worse hit by the storm — called “Elpida” or “Hope” in Greek — with overnight temperatures of -14 degrees Celsius (6.8 degrees Fahrenheit) forcing the closure of schools and vaccination centers.
Greeks told to stay home
The Greek government declared a holiday for parts of the country, including the capital, to keep people from going outside.
“We ask citizens to avoid leaving their homes. It will be a difficult night,” Climate Change and Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said.
“The height of the snow is unprecedented in some areas,” he added.
Hundreds of drivers in the city were stuck in their cars for hours with rescue workers braving the cold to free the stranded motorists.
A snowstorm in February last year left four people dead across Greece as well as cutting power for thousands of residents for several days.
Kostas Lagouvardos, research director at the National Observatory of Athens, told ANT1 TV that the capital had not seen back-to-back winters like this since 1968.
Snow fell on several Aegean islands, including on the beaches of popular tourist spot Mykonos.
Extreme weather in the southern Mediterranean
Neighboring Albania also closed all elementary and high schools for three days due to the freezing temperatures.
Snow fell across Turkey before reaching the northern region of Syria, home to thousands of refugees in makeshift camps, unprepared for the levels of cold the storm brought.
Snow flurries are expected to continue in Greece and Turkey for several days.
Greece also suffered deadly and destructive wildfires last summer that lasted for days. These were put down to the effects of climate change that increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather.