Russian winter brings dangers to its most European city
Saint Petersburg (AFP) Dec 24, 2010
Every winter, Russia's most European city battles traditional Russian problems as snow blocks streets and falling icicles injure and even kill pedestrians.
Amid severe winter, the former capital of the Russian tsars -- conceived by Peter the Great as a "window to Europe" for a country which stretches to the Pacific -- Saint Petersburg suffers from problems unimaginable in Western Europe.
Huge snowdrifts make Saint Petersburg's streets impassable for cars and pedestrians, who risk being killed by huge icicles falling from roofs.
"Attention, danger of falling ice!" street signs read and pavements are often closed to pedestrians where the risk of death is particularly high.
A resident of the city's Petrogradskaya district, Galina Gvardeyko, 75, said she has no confidence in the municipality and prefers not to leave her house at all, pending a salutary thaw.
Every year people are killed in Russian cities by blocks of ice that fall from roofs.
Within the space of just one week, 300 people were injured as they slipped on an icy sidewalk or were hurt by a falling icicle, according to government statistics.
The first two victims of this winter in Saint Petersburg were killed in car accidents as they walked on a road to bypass a slippery pavement.
A two-year-old girl died under a dustcart's wheels as her parents were pulling her in a sleigh.
Another victim, Irina Ganelina, 89, was killed when a snowplough ran over her. The driver has said he couldn't see her behind a huge pile of snow.
"Mom survived the siege of Leningrad (the city's Soviet-era name) by the Nazis (1941-1943) and few days before her death she remembered that even at that time she had not seen such chaos in the city," her son Lev Lourie, a renowned historian of Saint Petersburg, told local media.
These two deaths have prompted a wave of indignation in the city of some five million.
Famous actor Mikhail Trukhin published an angry open letter to the governor of the city, Valentina Matvienko.
"Saint Petersburg's streets and yards have become a nightmare during the last two particularly snowy winters," he wrote.
Matvienko has recently told the city council that municipal services' work was still "unsatisfactory", though "better than last winter."
The city has purchased this year some 600 snowploughs and over 2,000 people are employed to clear the city every day, according to the local government.
Matvienko has proposed to mobilise military academies and even homeless people to clear the city of snow.
"Why not prison inmates and hospital patients who have nothing to do," local resident Alexander Yakovlev said, adding that he spends half an hour every morning digging his car out of the snow.
Recently, enterprising Russians have started to offer car owners a paid service to free their vehicles trapped in snow.
earlier related report
The main tourism industry players in some of the world's most popular high-end Christmas destinations were hoping for the massive backlog in European airports to be quickly cleared.
Air Mauritius chairman Donald Payen said the money spent on special measures to address delays in the airline's European flights combined with numerous cancellations would dampen a month when business is usually brisk.
"These disturbances will undoubtedly have an impact on our economic performance for December," he told AFP.
The Indian Ocean state of Mauritius is heavily reliant on its tourism sector and usually welcomes around 110,000 tourists in December alone, its busiest month of the year.
Mauritius had looked certain to beat its arrivals target following a 9.5 percent increase in November, with some 85,000 tourists visiting the island's hotels and palm-fronted beaches last month.
"We have had a difficult situation to handle and we're relieved that it appears to be easing," Payen said.
Britain has been experiencing one of its harshest winters, with temperatures dipping to record lows and unusually heavy snowfalls forcing the closure of airports in London, which has the world's largest city airspace.
While the chaos was slowly being resolved across Europe, airlines were still struggling to clear the backlog and ensure thousands of stranded passengers would not spend Christmas eve in snowbound airports.
"It is affecting us," Uganda's state minister for tourism, Serapio Rukundo, told AFP.
"This season is an important time for our tourism industry. People from Europe like to come to Uganda to relax. But you also have Ugandans who are abroad who are trying to get home," he explained.
Rukundo said it was too early to put a figure on the losses incurred but he predicted the European weather chaos could have an impact when annual tourism revenues are compiled.
Ignie Igundura, Uganda civil aviation authority spokesman, said that British Airways and Dutch carrier KLM, which are in the eye of Europe's snow storm, were two of the major airlines flying to Ugandan's main Entebbe hub.
"The arrivals have not been as expected. We normally experience an upsurge in traffic around this time, but we have been affected," he said, adding that he hoped the situation would be stabilised by the weekend.
Losses caused by delays in new arrivals were partly compensated by the inevitable backlog of tourists who had been due to fly in the other direction and extended their holidays, officials explained.
In Kenya, the region's main air traffic hub, tourism officials also looked anxiously at Europe's efforts to resolve the crisis.
"It's one of these things, these things happen from time to time," said Jake Grieves-Cook, outgoing chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board.
"We sincerely hope the thaw is going to continue," he said.
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Port-Louis (AFP) Dec 23, 2010
Europe's snow-induced air traffic snarl is threatening to spoil a key tourism season for East Africa, where hundreds of thousands traditionally flock for Christmas warmth, officials said Thursday. The main tourism industry players in some of the world's most popular high-end Christmas destinations were hoping for the massive backlog in European airports to be quickly cleared. Air Mauriti ... read more
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