Romania was once again paralysed by snow and blizzard, following massive snowfalls over the last 24 hours. The decision, made yesterday at noon, to extend to the south of the country a code orange snowfall warning previously issued for south-western Romania did not improve things at all. On the contrary, the Romanian National Company of Motorways and National Roads (CNADNR) announced that the A1 and A2 motorways and all the national roads of Buzau, Ialomita, Galati, Braila, Vrancea, Tulcea and Calarasi counties were closed to traffic yesterday at noon, because of snow and blizzard. At the same time, authorities also closed the traffic on the Albita-Crasna and Crasna-Tecuci-Tisita segments of DN 24 B and on the Murgeni-Galati section of DN 26. CNADNR also announced that, at 12.00 PM, it closed DN 3 Bucharest-Calarasi and DN 4 Bucharest-Oltenita. Problems were also reported on DN 7 Ramnicu Valcea-Sibiu, between Brezoi and Calimanesti, at km 200, where traffic was interrupted for hours by a snow avalanche that fell from the peaks of mountains alongside the road.
Another roadblock was in Calimanesti, where a lorry skidded on ice and blocked both lanes. Road traffic through Albita – the most important customs checkpoint on the eastern border of Romania – was closed as well, for all categories of vehicles, because of heavy snowfall.
Traffic in Bucharest, near standstill
Bucharest and the Ilfov County were near-standstill because of snow and wind, which reduced the visibility and hampered road traffic. The motorists that dared to drive their cars yesterday – despite warnings issued by General Mayor Sorin Oprescu, who asked the population to use the public transport – had to wait for long hours in the street, in traffic jams caused by snow, ice and poor visibility. At times, the average speed dropped to 20 km/h. Those who tried to escape on side streets made a big mistake, as nobody had cleared the snow and their vehicles got pinned in 20 or more centimeters of snow. The Bucharest Municipality announced that, starting yesterday night, the boulevards of the capital city would be alternatively closed to traffic, in view of conducting efficient snow removal operations.
Transport Minister Alexandru Nazare asked the chiefs of road and bridge departments (DRPD) from regions that were unaffected by the extreme weather to send their snow removal machines to the affected areas from southern and eastern Romania. According to the minister, CNADNR currently avails of 64 additional machines, provided for free by construction entrepreneurs in the Bucharest and Constanta regions, and there are talks for even more such machines.
Railroad traffic too was hampered by snow and blizzard, with 301 trains canceled and seven lines being closed: Ploiesti – Urziceni, Bucharest Sud – Oltenita, Urziceni – Slobozia, Faurei – Buzau, Giurgiu Nord – Videle, Alexandria – Zimnicea, and Rosiori Est – Turnu Magurele. Traffic restrictions have been instated on 11 more lines. CFR Calatori however announced that it will try to keep at least a passenger train on each line of areas under the code orange warning, in order to secure a basic railway connection. On the other hand, the railway operator decided to stop selling tickets in advance while the bad weather persists.
74 fatalities at country scale
The number of fatalities caused by severe hypothermia is on the rise, and reached 74 since the latest ‘extreme cold’ warning – issued one week ago – until yesterday, with six people dead during the last 24 hours alone. According to the website of the Health Ministry (MS), the six fatalities were registered in the counties of Alba (2), Galati, Ialomita, Mures and Timis. Five of the six victims froze to death outside their homes.
Raed Arafat, state undersecretary with MS said yesterday, in a press conference held at the Ministry of Administration and Interior, that ambulances are trying to reach 10 emergencies in Braila, Buzau, Calarasi, Teleorman and Giurgiu counties. “Probably one or two of these cases are emergencies, but we try to go to each of them,” Arafat said, quoted by Mediafax. According to the official, the problem now is not the number of ambulance vehicles operated by the service, but the access to patients, in areas covered by snow. Two medicines producers, Antibiotice Iasi and Terapia Cluj expressed their intention to donate medical drugs and products for the affected areas, following an appeal launched by MS to this view, Arafat added.
State of emergency in the energy system?
Transelectrica received the approval of authorities to restrict or stop exports, for a two-week interval, and the amount of electricity delivered to some consumers might be restricted, rtv.net informs, quoting a draft regulation signed by Premier Mihai Razvan Ungureanu. According to the source, during February 16-29 Transelectrica – the operator of the national power grid – may intervene to regulate the electricity system at country scale, if weather conditions impose it. The draft government decree mentions “elements that pertain to the general public interest and represent emergency and extraordinary situations.” According to the explanatory note of the decree, the present situation existing in the National Energy System (SEN) is characterised by a substantial deficit of electricity. The main reasons: the draught that does not allow Hidroelectrica to work at full capacity, the problems posed by snow and cold to supplying power plants with coal, the difficulty of securing the gas and oil needed by thermal power plants, also because of the extreme cold.
State of alert in Vrancea: 6,000 people, cut off from the world
The authorities eventually decided to declare a state of alert in Vrancea County yesterday, as of 12am, as 6,000 people from 21 villages in Vrancea remain isolated after yet another snowfall and blizzard warning was issued for this region. The state of alert, which allows the authorities to “take all measures deemed necessary to remove the situation rated as force majeure,” will remain in place until today at 2pm. The state secretary in the Interior Ministry (MAI), Mihai Capra, explained that a state of alert had been declared in Vrancea County, and not a state of emergency, as was reported in the central media. He said the latter means that ‘an immediate risk to the safety of the population”. He went on saying that during the state of emergency drastic measures could be taken, such as restricting the freedom of movement to seizing assets or even ‘banning certain publications’.
Although the Buzau County Council (CJ) chairman had urged only a day before that similar measures be taken in the county he represents, Interior Minister Gabriel Berca stated yesterday that no requests to declare the state of alert had been made outside Vrancea County and called once again for a closer collaboration between the county council heads and prefects to ensure no further problems arise.
Alongside the 21 villages in Vrancea cut off from the world, 33 other villages in the country are in a similar situation. As regards power distribution, 24 villages, out of which 12 in Buzau County and eight in Cluj, have been left without power. Indeed, SC Electrica SA announced that several utility poles and power cable had been broken and over 100 power stations had been damaged in Buzau County, with the highest number of failures reported in Amaru, Cochirleanca, Costesti, Gheraseni, Movila Banului, Robeasca and Sageata.
Schools closed down
The authorities announced that over 3,800 schools had been closed down yesterday morning owing to weather conditions, but their number is set to rise after the Dolj Prefecture and the Bucharest City Board of Education (ISMB) announced that classes would be suspended in Dolj County and in the capital. The counties where classes were suspended yesterday, in urban and rural areas alike, are counties Ialomita, Gorj, Giurgiu, Mehedinti, Vrancea, Dolj and Olt. Today, classes will be suspended in Bucharest and 11 counties.
Plane gets off runway in Craiova
A plane with 48 passengers aboard got off the runway yesterday on the Craiova Airport after skidding on the snow just as it was about to take off. The Craiova Airport director Mircea Dumitru stated the most likely causes of the incident were low visibility and the snow layer on the runway, which was 15 to 20 cm-thick. He further stated that no passenger had been injured. However, a passenger of the Craiova-Timisoara flight claims she sustained a leg injury, as the passengers had to jump out of the plane for fear of an explosion. “I could smell gas and then I saw the plane skid. We had to get off the plane without a ladder and, at that point, someone fell on top of me. The snow layer was very high, up to my waist,” the woman stated, quoted by Mediafax. The Craiova Airport was closed down following the incident. “The plane skidded into a snowdrift some 1,200-1,500 metres away from the end of the runway. We discussed the matter with the company representatives, who stated they take full responsibility for the incident and would pay due compensation to the passengers. They promised they would get in touch with the passengers and settle the matter,” the Dolj prefect stated. He added that the Civil Aviation Authority would conduct an investigation into this case to establish the exact causes of the incident.
Voinescu: PDL ministers, ready to take action
The spokesman for the Democratic-Liberal Party (PDL), Sever Voinescu, stated yesterday that the Democrat-Liberal ministers were ready to take all the necessary measures to provide solutions to problems caused by the weather conditions. “We are persuaded that all our ministers, as indeed all the Cabinet members, are ready to take all the necessary measures in the present context. Indeed, we had talks in the National Standing Bureau with each and every one of them,” Voinescu stated. He further argued that all the party’s local organizations would get mobilised to provide assistance to the people affected by the snowfalls and that all the parties in Romania should take direct action to help these people.
The activity of the Lower Chamber and the Senate was suspended yesterday owing to weather conditions, as several deputies were unable to travel to Bucharest and the assembly meeting scheduled for 4pm had to be cancelled.
Basescu: No legal grounds to declare the state of emergency
After yesterday’s consultations with the ruling coalition parties, president Traian Basescu stated that the people shouldn’t worry about power cuts, but warned that power exports might be interrupted. “There is no risk whatsoever that the people be left without electricity,” the president announced, adding that, should the major electricity distribution companies be faced with failures, a pre-established back-up plan would be applied. The president explained that Romania exports 500 megawatts/ hour, which may amount to 1,400 megawatts/hour during the rush hour. As regards the proposal of declaring the state of emergency in the areas most sorely affected by heavy snowfalls, insistently called for by the Social-Democratic Party (PSD) leader Victor Ponta and by the heads of the Vrancea and Buzau County Council, Marian Oprisan and, respectively, Victor Mocanu, both members of PSD, Basescu argued he was well aware “desperate attempts are being made to draw the president in public disputes”. “Sadly, I have no patience for this, nor should we get involved in such disputes at a time when the people are suffering,” Basescu argued, calling on Ponta and Mocanu to read article 93 in the Constitution. “The state of emergency is defined as follows: a body of exceptional, political, economic and public order, measures, applicable at a national or regional level, in the event there is a serious or imminent danger to the state and democratic structure. There is no question of this. This would presume that all measures taken are taken by military orders. It is obvious this doesn’t refer to a situation in which a portion of the national territory is struck by winter or blizzard. I can only assume one of two things: either this was a trap meant to get the president to declare a state of emergency in a hurry, which would have meant the reins of local government were to be taken over by the military and decisions were to be made by military order, or whoever proposed this is not well acquainted with our legislation,” the president argued.