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Large parts of Belarus and the Belarusian capital Minsk have spent this weekend under exceptional circumstances. The cyclone Javier has paralysed large parts of the country for almost two days.
While similar weather conditions in the USA would make it to the top news in Europe, there has been no mentioning of the storm in Belarus in Western media.
It started as simple snow fall on Friday morning, but approximately 20 cm of snow fell in the following 24 hours. The wind was 22 metres per second according to the Belarusian hydro-meteorological centre. Sight was limited to 100 metres in the Minsk region on Friday afternoon because of the heavy snow falls. Although the country is used to severe winters and well equipped to deal with large amount of snow, public life has come to a halt at this weekend.
Traffic standstill during Friday rush hour
By the time most Belarusians were trying to go home, the situation was at it worst. This led to a chaos that is extraordinary for Belarus. “The last time I have seen something similar was in the 1980s” says Sasha, who has reached home by walking from the metro station to his homes. Buses stopped running during the afternoon and have not re-started until Saturday evening.
Getting home during rush hour was very difficult for all people and impossible for many. “My colleague left the office at lunch time and got home at 4a.m.”, says Vasili. Indeed, circulation on the Minsk beltway came to a standstill during rush hour.
Thousands of cars were stuck in traffic jams. More than 650 traffic jams were registered in Belarus on Friday evening according to Nasha Niva. This is twice more than on a usual day, according to the road police. 3 people died in accidents. In several cases, more than 20 cars were involved in mass accidents.
For some time, the roads out of Minsk were completely closed. It was impossible to get from towns to the periphery of the capital such Dziarzhinsk and Fanipol’ to Minsk or back. Circulation on the main street in Minsk, the prospect, came to a complete still-stand during the rush hour.
Many people had to sleep at work or were forced to stay overnight with friends in the centre. As there were no buses running, the metro had to be temporarily closed because it was so overcrowded. Those who could, left their cars at works and tried to get home by public transport. This turned out to be difficult, however, when only metro and regional trains could operate.
Thousands forced to spend the night in their cars
The roof of a car park near Hotel Minsk in the very centre of the capital fell down on account of the masses of snow covering it. The plastic roof buried around 30 cars but fortunately did not hurt a single person.
While in Minsk, inconveniences consisted mainly in perturbed traffic and the impossibility to reach home, by Friday evening more than 530 villages and towns in Belarus were left without electricity. Up to Saturday evening, 26 villages are still without electricity in Brest region. This region suffered especially from heavy snow falls and wind: 82 cars were freed from snow drifts. 320 persons, among them 37 children were in the cars. None of them was injured.
On Saturday, although the snow fall had stopped, Minsk was quieter than ever before. Around 20 000 employees and parts of the army that were called to support the city administration to clean the roads. The news agency BelTA informs that more than 900 snow clearing vehicles were employed to clear the capital.
Most people had to stay at home in the "sleeping districts" during the day. While even the courtyards and central parks had been cleaned from snow during the day, there were still no buses running or streets cleared in the suburbs.
Some shops stayed closed, as for example the Central Fashion Market. However, fresh bread and meat was delivered to the shops in the centre of Minsk.
Public life had to be postponed as well. All Maslenica events (Maslenica is the holiday of winter farewell) as well as football, hockey and basketball matches are to take place on Sunday instead of Saturday. The soccer team of the “Football Club Homel” had to spend 28 hours on the way to the quarter finals of the cup of Belarus that was supposed to take place in Minsk on Saturday. The players spent the night in their coach and finished their journey by regional train on Saturday morning.
International airport closed on Friday
While international airport Minsk II was closed for several hours on Friday, all passengers that were supposed to land in Minsk on Friday arrived there on Saturday morning. As planes could not touch down in Minsk, they had to be directed to Homel or Kyiv.
700 passengers had to to spend the night at the airport in Minsk. During the day, around 2,000 people were waiting to fly to their destinations. Unfortunately, the Belarusian national carrier Belavia did not accept that flying would not be possible on Friday and refused to inform passengers about what was going to happen according to a news report on tut.by.
According to the Minsk city executive committee, the roads leading out of Minsk were opened only for a limited circulation in order to allow the vehicles to clear away the snow. This is also true for the majority of roads in the Minsk region. On the M4 from Minsk to Mogilev, there were still more than 30 km of traffic jam on Saturday evening.
For the upcoming days, the weather forecast promises less snow fall but still icy temperatures. The Minsk city administration did a remarkable job in clearing the centre from snow. But next time they should clean the roads on the outskirts of Minsk before clearing the parks and courtyards of privileged houses in the centre.
Nadine Lashuk is a German political scientist, currently working on the first German-Belarusian binational PhD thesis.