Airport reopens after snow strands 86,000 on South Korea's Jeju island

 A snowplough clears runways at Jeju International Airport on the southern resort island of Jeju in South Korea on Jan 24, 2016.
A snowplough clears runways at Jeju International Airport on the southern resort island of Jeju in South Korea on Jan 24, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
When flights were grounded, passengers slept in a departure hall at Jeju International Airport in South Korea on Jan 25, 2016.
When flights were grounded, passengers slept in a departure hall at Jeju International Airport in South Korea on Jan 25, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (AFP) - The first flight in three days took off from the South Korean resort island of Jeju on Monday (Jan 25) after the biggest snowfall in three decades shut the airport and stranded nearly 90,000 people.

Known as the Hawaii of South Korea for its beaches and usually warm climate, Jeju took the brunt of a week-long cold snap that sent the mercury plunging to record lows across the country.

The popular holiday destination recorded its heaviest snowfall in three decades over the weekend, as the temperature dropped to -6.1 deg C.  

On Saturday the transport ministry shut Jeju International Airport due to the heavy snow and strong winds. Almost 1,100 flights were cancelled over the weekend and Monday, leaving some 86,000 frustrated travellers stranded on the island.

 

But finally a plane did manage to take off shortly before 3pm (2pm Singapore time) and a ministry official said departures would quickly pick up pace.  

“Arrivals to the island will take a little longer as they have to clear more than 30 parked aircraft,” the official said. 

Thousands had been forced to spend the night at the airport, bundled up in blankets and sleeping on cardboard to avoid the freezing floors.

Although it was spared any snowfall, the capital Seoul recorded its coldest day in 15 years on Sunday when the temperature fell to -18 deg C. 

On Saturday the state weather agency had issued a cold wave warning for Seoul for the first time in five years.