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Update: Coldest January since records began leads to travel chaosThe heaviest snowfall in three decades paralyzes the island as airport shuts for 40 hours
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승인 2016.01.25  17:22:44
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▲ Snow paralyzed Jeju International airport over the weekend. Photo courtesy Jeju Sori

Jeju’s worst snowstorms in 32 years resulted in three days of blizzards and gale force winds, forcing Jeju International Airport to close on Saturday evening, Jan 23.

After over 40 hours of cancellations, flights only resumed at around 3pm on Monday, Jan 25.
Initially, up to 89,000 people were thought to have been stranded at the airport for three days after flights were grounded.

Airport authorities claim the real figure was around 50,000 due to last-minute cancellations and double bookings. As many as 1,700 passengers are thought to have spent the weekend in the airport.

The backlog was eventually cleared by Wednesday morning, Jan 27, thanks to night flight restrictions being lifted.

Flights took off every couple of minutes from Monday afternoon until 6am on Tuesday, by which time more than 30,000 passengers had flown off the island.

Gale force winds and driving snow forced the authorities to close the airport at 5:30pm on Jan 23, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

The authorities planned to reopen the airport at 8pm on Monday, but after airport staff worked to clear the runways, and after winds weakened, flights resumed five hours earlier than planned on Monday afternoon.

A total of 700 flights were cancelled, with 250 on Saturday, and another 450 on Sunday. An additional 320 were delayed on Monday, although all-night flights allowed most of these to fly by Tuesday morning.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands of visitors stranded on Jeju, many hundreds of Jeju residents were also stuck on the mainland unable to return home.

Budget airlines came in for fierce criticism as tickets were only sold on a first-come-first-served basis, meaning ticket holders were given no priority if flights were cancelled. This forced many passengers to spend hours in the airport waiting for tickets to go back on sale.

Some passengers had to spend two nights in cramped conditions as the airport became a tent city with mats and tents erected throughout the interior.

Local citizens responded to the situation by providing supplies to the stranded passengers and even rooms to vulnerable families through SNS campaigns.

There were also complaints, however, of profiteering by taxi drivers and pedlars selling supplies.

The provincial authorities and travel agencies were at the airport handing out food and drink, as well as blankets and rubber mats to passengers.

Weather records broken
The severe winter weather arrived with a large continental low pressure system which moved across East Asia.

It brought in its wake Siberian air which moved as far south as Taiwan and Thailand.

For three days from Jan 23, Jeju experienced blizzards and gales — winds reached 95km per hour at Jeju airport on Sunday — before warmer air moved over the region on Monday afternoon.

The Korea Meteorological Agency says that Jeju City recorded its lowest ever January temperature on Sunday, Jan 24, when the mercury dipped to minus 5.8°c.

The previous coldest, since records began in 1923, was minus 5.7°c on Jan 10, 1931. The coldest ever remains -6°c on Feb 16, 1977.

Seogwipo City reached as low as -6.4°c on Jan 24, its lowest temperature for 46 years.

Jeju City also recorded its third highest January snowfall after 12cm fell on Jan 23. The heaviest snowfall remains the 13.9cm which fell on Jan 18, 1984.

The most snowfall in the coastal region was recorded in Seongsan which received 14.5cm. Witse Oreum on Mt. Hallasan received 135cm.

The weather caused a power outage across the island affecting 2,022 households, with 251 burst and frozen pipes being reported. Scores of farm greenhouses and aquafarms were also damaged.

Hundreds of traffic accidents occurred across the island, with dozens of people taken to hospital. No serious injuries have yet been reported, however.

For the latest travel information in English call the Korea Tourism Organization on 1330.

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