Fatih Saribas  /  Reuters
Snow covered Istanbul Friday, including this area near the city's Blue Mosque. Hundreds of villages were cut off by blizzards.
updated 2/13/2004 1:10:23 PM ET 2004-02-13T18:10:23

A snowstorm sweeping out of the Balkans disrupted travel across Turkey and Greece Friday, and caused a cargo ship to sink with rescuers battling strong winds in the search for 21 crew members.

The storm dumped up to 14 inches of snow in Istanbul, and lesser amounts fell in Athens, blanketing the Acropolis and other ancient monuments. Athens’ airport was shut down, as was ferry service to several Greek islands, which also lost power as blizzards whipped through the region.

Temperatures plunged to 15 degrees in northern suburbs of the Greek capital — a 30-year record, and fell to zero in northern Greece. Istanbul recorded a low of 24 degrees.

The Turkish coast guard searched for the crew of the 592-foot coal freighter Hera, a Cambodian-flagged vessel that sank near the entrance of the Bosporus. Strong winds were disrupting rescue efforts.

Two other cargo ships collided because of poor visibility, leaving one crew member missing. Two more ships ran aground due to strong winds, as the storm forced officials to close the Bosporus and Dardanelles to traffic for a second day.

Murad Sezer  /  AP
Istanbul's normally hectic pace was slowed down by Friday's storm.
Authorities canceled flights at Istanbul’s main airport, stranding thousands of passengers. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who visited Turkey on Thursday, was among those stuck in Istanbul, the Anatolia news agency said.

The storm closed roads and schools, knocked out power to some Istanbul neighborhoods and forced city officials turned a sports complex into an emergency shelter for about 100 homeless.

Greeks stranded
In Greece, hundreds of motorists were stranded by the snow along a main highway, and the military sent armored personnel carriers to help.

“The priority is to free these people before nightfall and before the temperatures drop again,” Interior Minister Nikos Alivizatos said. “We’re advising people to stay indoors and not use the roads.”

Yannis Behrakis  /  Reuters
French tourists make their way down a slippery slope during a snowstorm at the foot of Athens' Acropolis Friday.
Rescuers handed out blankets and dried food to the stuck travelers who were unprepared for the weather, he said.

All planes were grounded at Athens International Airport and flights to the capital were diverted to other cities. Thirteen regional airports were also closed, and ferry services were canceled.

An emergency was declared for three Aegean Sea islands — Tinos, Andros and Syros — which were left without power. Most schools around the country were closed.

Ambulance services were flooded with calls.

The snow disrupted Greece’s election campaign, which is in full swing ahead of the March 7 balloting. Candidates canceled appearances and instead donned heavy coats to tour snowbound suburbs and shelters.

Socialist candidate George Papandreou had been due to hand over his portfolio as foreign minister to his deputy, Tassos Giannistis, but the ceremony was postponed.

Problems in Romania
In Romania, high waves and winds gusting to 50 mph disrupted shipping at three Black Sea ports and halted navigation on parts of the Danube.

Two cargo vessels put out to sea from the port of Constanta-South Agigea to avoid being damaged. Authorities were working to bring the vessels back into port, said Capt. Alexandru Mezei, head of the local naval authority.

Snow and ice slowed road traffic in the country and forced the closure of several mountain roads in northern Romania. Temperatures plunged to 31 below zero in central Romania, while in the capital of Bucharest, a low of 9 below was recorded, making it the coldest day of the year.

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