Blizzard reportedly killed two. Hundreds of vehicles were blocked in traffic, including ambulances with patients onboard, trains and flights were canceled or delayed, localities were cut from electricity, and schools were closed.
By Daniela Baragan
Blizzard and snow paralysed Romania, closing 26 national roads and 80 county roads, and the motorways A1 Bucharest-Pitesti and A2 Bucharest-Lehliu. Hundreds of vehicles were blocked in traffic by snow, including ambulances with patients onboard, broken trees fell across roads, trains and flights were canceled or delayed, localities were cut from electricity, and schools were closed. This is the result of 24 hours of snow, as presented yesterday by Premier Emil Boc, who inspected the A1 motorway, accompanied by the ministers of Transport, Anca Boagiu, and Defense, Gabriel Oprea. According to Realitatea.net, a man was found frozen in his car in Calugareni area, his car being buried one meter and half in the snow. On the other hand, Antena 3 reported another man died in Constanta, while walking to his home.
On the other hand, at the end of a meeting of the Committee for Emergency Situations of the Ministry of Administration and Interior (MAI), Boc announced that he asked the ministers of Defense, and Transport, to use army equipment, including tracked vehicles, for snow removal operations in case of emergency, such as those reported in the counties of Ilfov, Giurgiu and Calarasi. According to the PM, a serious situation developed near Uzun (Giurgiu), where a bus with passengers is blocked on the road, and gendarmes will need two hours to make a first contact with the vehicle.
“Other vehicles, too, are blocked in traffic, and the situation is very difficult, with packed snow reaching even three meters high, and the field is uniformly covered by snow, so nobody knows where the road is, so it is very difficult to advance,” Boc explained. According to the premier, 340 people were evacuated from their cars at night, but others did not want to abandon their vehicles. “I ordered mineral water and canned food to be taken from the state reserve, in order to help the people blocked in traffic or shelters,” Boc added, quoted by Mediafax. Given the weather forecast that warns about extreme cold the next days, the head of the government asked mayors to prepare shelters for the homeless.
In her turn, Transport minister Anca Boagiu announced that the National Company of Motorways and National Roads (CNADNR) has mobilised 1,081 machines for road-clearing operations, but still needs support from the Defense Ministry. “The major problem we encountered relates to the fact that many trucks skidded on ice and blocked the traffic on roads and motorways, forcing dozens of people to wait in automobiles, minibuses, and buses for the road to be cleared,” Boagiu said. According to the minister, these trucks will be removed by the army. The companies that signed snow removal contracts with the ministry also participate in the operations, but these contracts only provide keeping roads open in “normal winter conditions,” while Romania is in an exceptional situation these days, she added. The minister of Defense, Gabriel Oprea said that he ordered military units from all over the country to support local authorities in snow removal operations.
Disaster in Bucharest and Ilfov
Bucharest and the Ilfov County were paralysed by blizzard for a second day. Yesterday morning, it was a real problem to cross the city from end to end. Road traffic was difficult even on the main boulevards, although the municipality sent its heavy machines in the street all night long, Wednesday and in the early hours of Thursday, and secondary streets were almost impracticable. Like the previous day, public transportation vehicles experienced difficulties and several trolley-buses and tramways were blocked for long minutes. According to rtv.net, authorities even decided to divert some lines of the public transport company RATB: the bus lines 148, 149, 301, 449, 780, 783 were ordered by Traffic Police to stop at the Baneasa Airport, instead of following their base route towards the Otopeni Airport. Difficult traffic and long waiting times made people prefer the metro over surface vehicles, so the main stations were overcrowded during rush hours. Some passengers had to wait several trains before they could get in. Apart from blocking tramways or trolley-buses in the street, snow also felled or uprooted over 200 trees in Bucharest, severed power cable and damaged nearly 50 traffic lights. Last night, Municipality decided to close several boulevards in Bucharest to cleat the snow, among which Lascar Catargiu, Ion Mihalache, Calea Grivitei, Piata Dorobanti, Soseaua Pipera, Calea Rahovei or Timisoara Boulevard.
According to the Interior Minister state secretary Ioan Dascalu, the most affected Ilfov areas were Grivita and Afumati, where the snow cover exceeded 3 meters.
According to the manager of the Bucharest Ambulance Service (SAB) Alis Grasu, 19 people were blocked Wednesday on A1, at km 38, and 6 others near Afumati-Sindrilita and Popesti Leordeni-Cornetu. On the A1 motorway, at km 38, a type C ambulance without patient was blocked by snow, and paramedics aided the passengers of other vehicles that were also stranded in the white inferno. Another ambulance was blocked in the Branesti – Islaz area, and the crew was forced to leave it in the morning, after nearly freezing all night long, from 7.00 PM to 5.00 AM.
16 flights canceled on Otopeni, Baneasa airports
Extreme weather also hampered air traffic, with 13 flights being canceled yesterday morning on the Otopeni Airport and 3 on Baneasa. Throughout the day, air traffic went on in conditions of snow, wind and low visibility. After airport authorities issued the press release, PM Emil Boc announced that, in fact, 28 flights have been canceled on both airports, covering destinations both in Romania and abroad.
Because of problems with air traffic, the European Commissioner for Regional Policies, Johannes Hahn canceled his visit to Bucharest, scheduled for yesterday. “The delegation led by the European official was in impossibility of going from Brussels to Bucharest, because the air traffic was perturbed,” the European Commission announced. The European commissioner was due to have talks at the Victoria Palace with Premier Emil Boc and the minister of European Affairs, Leonard Orban. He was also expected to attend the meeting of the inter-ministry committee for the absorption of European funds.
Over 30 trains canceled, two lines closed, hundreds of minutes of delay
Bad weather forced railway authorities to cancel over 30 trains and close two lines, while the trains still on track cumulated hundreds of minutes of delay, especially those departing or arriving in Bucharest. In the area of the Bucharest Nord Complex, railroad traffic is seriously hampered by blizzard. Like if this were not enough, Intercity 582 from Constanta to Bucharest jumped off tracks yesterday morning near Mostistea, between Fundulea and Sarulesti. “There are 123 passengers onboard. The train is slightly off-track and nobody was hurt, but people are worried, which is normal. Passengers will not leave the carriages before the arrival of the teams sent by CFR S.A., which will remediate the situation. Until then, the line is closed,” explained Adrian Vlaicu, spokesman for railway operator CFR Calatori, quoted by rtv.net. Speaking about delays, Vlaicu said that, in the Arrivals category, the maximum delay was 200-220 minutes, while in the Departures category the top figure is 140 minutes.
Weather also poses problems to naval traffic, with four sea and river ports being closed because of blizzard, as well as the Sulina Bar and Channel. The violent gusts of wind forced authorities to close the Constanta Nord and Sud sea and river ports, and the Mangalia and Midia seaports.
Hundreds blocked on roads, ambulances snowed in, villages without power
The Ministry of Administration and Internal Affairs (MAI) announced that the heavy snowfalls and blizzard had left 480 town and villages without electricity. According to MAI, 545 towns and villages from 21 counties were struck by the blizzard and 41 other villages were cut off from the world. The intervention teams saved 1,323 people and 297 persons refused to be displaced, the same source stated. At the same time, the authorities provided shelter for 1,335 people, including 23 children. Three children and 29 adults, including two pregnant women and a patient in need of dialysis, received medical care. The latter is a woman who remained stranded over ten hours in an ambulance on the Puturi-Castranova county road. The head of the Ialomita Ambulance Service, Radu Paros, claims that several people, among whom a pregnant woman and a one-year-old suffering from fever, needed to be hospitalised. The ambulances carrying them were stalled in the snow and the patients found shelter on Wednesday night in the Movilita Mayor’s Office (Ialomita County), after traffic on DN2 Bucharest-Urziceni was blocked. An incredible case was in Galbinasi village from Calarasi, where a 13-years-old pregnant girl gave birth to her baby boy at home, because the ambulance could not get there to take her at the hospital.
The Buzau County Prefect Paul Beganu announced, in turn, that 525 persons, including 17 children, were collected on Wednesday night from the vehicles stalled on DN 2 E 85, around Mihailesti, as well on the road joining Buzau and Ramnicu Sarat, around Balta Alba. The people were led by the gendarmes to shelters set up by the authorities or to inns on the side of the blocked roads. 97 other people refused to leave their cars for fear they might be broken into by thieves. Local authorities decided to close down traffic on DN 1 B Buzau-Ploiesti as well, after a long-distance truck skidded in Valea Viei, so that only one road in the county remains open to traffic, the road joining Buzau and Brasov. The national road 1, which joins Bucharest to the Otopeni-Tancabesti segment in Ilfov County, which was closed down for 17 hours because of the blizzard, was opened to traffic yesterday around 2pm, but traffic in the area remains strenuous. DN 7, Pitesti-Ramnicu Valcea, was also closed down yesterday.
Some 30 people, including two seniors, were rescued by gendarmes from the cars blocked by blizzard on the A2 Bucharest – Lehliu motorway, and spent Wednesday night at the Lehliu Town Hall. A similar action took place in Negrasi (Arges County).
Minus 13 degrees Celsius at Toplita
Thermometers dropped to -13 degrees Celsius at Toplita and at the Bucin Weather Station, yesterday morning, with -10 degrees being registered at Joseni and -8 degrees at Miercurea Ciuc. Across Harghita County wind posed problems to motorists, especially at higher altitudes, with gusts exceeding 55 km/h that covered roads with snow carried from the fields. Mountain rescue services warned about a high risk of avalanche in the Fagaras Mountains, while at Balea Lake the layer of snow was more than 1.5 meters deep.
Warning for Bulgaria too
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) yesterday issued a warning about traffic problems in Bulgaria, where 20 regions are under orange code of heavy snowfalls. Also yesterday, the Bulgarian minister of Regional Development, Liliana Pavlova announced that the Giurgiu border checkpoint with Romania was temporarily closed because of extreme weather, Realitatea.net reports.
Orange code extended in 5 counties
Weather services yesterday extended the orange code of blizzard and snow, due to end at 6.00 PM, for the counties of Braila, Calarasi, Constanta, Galati and Tulcea. “The orange code stays in effect after 6.00 PM too, so there is still an emergency situation,” Premier Emil Boc confirmed. In the rest of the counties of southern and eastern Romania (Bucharest included), it will stop snowing, but temperatures will drop underneath -16 degrees Celsius.