By Karine Kalantarian
Ten-day heavy snowfalls across Armenia intensified on Friday, significantly complicating traffic in Yerevan and on some major highways outside the capital. Blizzards were reported in some parts of the mountainous country which is facing its coldest winter in several years.
Officials said a thick layer of snow forced the temporary closure of mountain passes and other road sections connecting various Armenian regions. But according to Grigor Mikaelian, deputy manager of the Armenia’s highway network, most of them were promptly reopened for traffic later in the day after. Mikaelian said his state-run enterprise has sufficient equipment and emergency budget, 800 million drams ($1.4 million), to carry out a massive clean-up.
The picture was different in Yerevan where few signs of a clean-up were visible throughout the day. Virtually all roads and sidewalks in the city remained covered with snow and ice, causing dangerous situations for motorists and pedestrians.
The head of Armenia’s national meteorological service, Gennady Kojoyan, said the municipal authorities had been warned of possible heavy snowfalls beforehand. “I don’t want to justify their inaction, but this situation is probably the result of a lack of finances,” Kojoyan told RFE/RL.
Officials in the Yerevan mayor’s office gave a similar explanation. Its spokeswoman, Anahit Yesayan, said the municipality has more than a hundred snowplows, bulldozers and other snow-cleaning equipment but most of them are old and out of order. Yesayan said the city authorities also decided not to spray salt, which causes the snow to thaw, in the city center where most streets have only recently been paved with funds provided by an Armenian-American charity.
“Salt erodes asphalt,” she explained, adding that the authorities are using sand instead.
There were no reports of power cuts in Yerevan and other regions. Many of them were briefly left without electricity after the first snow, accompanied by freezing temperatures, triggered a chain of breakdowns on key power transmission lines last week. The recently privatized national power utility claims to have repaired much of the damage.
But there are still dangerous voltage fluctuations in some city neighborhoods, suggesting that the power grid continues to operate under additional strain.