© AA
It is winter at its worst for Turkey this week as snowfall and blizzards set in, spelling trouble for the population in most of the country's 81 provinces. Traffic disruption and difficulty in accessing remote locations are among the major woes of the public.

Thousands of people were stranded on a highway connecting the country's southern provinces as heavy snowfall and a blizzard hit the region late Tuesday and Wednesday. Some 2,800 people trapped in their cars in motionless traffic were evacuated by crews.

Gaziantep Governor Davut Gül said that the stranded people were motorists and passengers on Tarsus-Adana-Gaziantep Motorway (TAG), which was closed to traffic on Tuesday night. Gül told Anadolu Agency (AA) that they prioritized the sick among the stranded and each of them was taken to the nearest hospitals. Around 186 people in need of medical care were evacuated to hospitals. He said the crews also distributed food to some 7,000 people on the highway where the vehicles could not move to low visibility and thick snow.

Gül said crews helped 1,780 vehicles stuck on the road but "at least 2,800 more people" were still stranded. Social media was flooded with messages about people waiting for help for hours on Tuesday night and early hours of Wednesday.

The governor said the main cause of the disruption on the highway was several long-haul trucks that were involved in accidents and slowed down the traffic. The work was underway on Wednesday morning to remove the broken down trucks but an ongoing blizzard posed a challenge. The governor urged the public living near the area not to drive on Wednesday. Later on, the governorate banned drivers from leaving Gaziantep.

In a rare phenomenon for the region, Gaziantep itself was heavily hit by snowfall and the traffic came to a standstill in the province, one of the most populated in the country. Temperatures were around minus 3 degrees Celsius (minus 26.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the province early Wednesday. A thick layer of snow covering the city center reached 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) overnight.

Mehmet Çiftçi, a driver who was stranded on the highway, said he left Gaziantep on Tuesday evening for a trip to Tarsus, a town in Mersin province. He said it took more than one hour to drive a short distance before the highway traffic completely stopped.

The snowfall ceased on Wednesday, but roads and streets were still blanketed with snow, forcing people to commute on foot in Gaziantep, as public buses were also missing from the dangerously icy streets. Power outages were also reported in several neighborhoods. Gaziantep's municipality announced that the work was continuing to clear the snow and keep roads open by pouring salt on them.

Later during the day, the Turkish military dispatched helicopters to the highway, delivering food to the stranded passengers and drivers. The Defense Minister announced that two helicopters were deployed to the highway for medical evacuations and food aid to the stranded people. Two tow trucks sent by the army also joined efforts to remove trucks trapped in snowfall from the road to ease the traffic.

Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin, who spoke to AA on Wednesday, said they expected the highway to be completely opened by Wednesday evening. She said they have deployed 161 heavy equipment, from bulldozers to snow plows, to clear the road. She said the biggest challenge was in a section of the highway in Nurdağı district where two trucks were overturned. The mayor said all stranded people were supplied with food and fuel aid. Nurdağı municipality also took in hundreds of stranded passengers, accommodating them in student dormitories and other venues.

Another snow-related disruption was reported on a road connecting Gaziantep to the province of Kilis. Some 30 vehicles were stranded on the road, while a car and a truck plunged into a shallow cliff after they skidded off the road. No casualties were reported. The road was reopened for traffic hours later after the piles of snow were cleared.

The blizzard and snowfall also left hundreds of vehicles stranded on Akseki-Seydişehir highway, which connects the Mediterranean province of Antalya to the central province of Konya, late Tuesday. Drivers waited for the traffic to move for hours, while police stopped the arrival of more vehicles. Crews delivered food to stranded motorists, while some took shelter at rest stops along the road amid cold weather.

In the north, the busy D-100 and the TransEuropean Motorway (TEM), two highways connecting western cities to inner Anatolia, were partially closed due to multiple accidents under heavy snowfall. Most of the accidents involved large trucks that blocked access to the highway in Bolu, a section of the road crossing a mountain. Crews rushed to the area to tow away the trucks and resume the flow of traffic. The highway passage toward Ankara was closed for hours on Wednesday.

A cold, snowy spell lingering for days took a toll on daily life across Turkey. Bad weather forced the closure of schools in 52 provinces on Wednesday and was at its worst everywhere except in some western provinces.

Turkish State Meteorology Services (TSMS) warned that heavy snowfall will remain effective for most of the country on Wednesday as well, with some provinces in the Mediterranean region and those in the west and northwest spared from exceptional snowfall.

Snowfall and blizzards were the main challenge for transportation across Turkey this week. Hundreds of roads to villages and remote towns are still closed, especially in eastern and northern provinces. Though snow clearing crews work around the clock to ensure access, roads become inaccessible again hours later due to the snowfall.

The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) announced that a total of 722 roads to villages in Bolu, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Artvin and Bingöl were closed to transportation due to bad weather. Some 136 traffic accidents due to bad weather were reported in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.

The AFAD said in a written statement that they were coordinating efforts to clear the roads and that stranded motorists were being assisted by local search and rescue crews and the Turkish Red Crescent (Kızılay).