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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Slip Slides Away as Snow Piles Up




Caught in a traffic jam, swaying and skidding in thick mushy snow, Alexander was mesmerized by this sight: The stoplight on Novoslobodskaya Ulitsa had all three of its lights glaring red, yellow and green.


"Every time the snow falls, traffic goes crazy and stoplights stop working! I can't believe it," the 35-year-old sputtered, as a car in front of him spun out. "We don't live in Africa, for God's sake! Why does every snowfall turn into a major disaster?"


A heavy snowstorm descended on Moscow on Thursday and Friday, with about 12 centimeters falling starting around 6 p.m. Thursday night. City authorities called out extra snowplows and put city police on alert, with the snow expected to end Saturday morning.


Friday afternoon, snow depth in the city ranged from 19 centimeters to 23 centimeters, said Anatoly Yakovlev, the spokesman for the Federal Meteorological Service, known as Rosgidromet.


The snowfall was far from a record, measuring the equivalent of 15 millimeters of rain. The record for December came Dec. 14, 1981, with 26.2 millimeters.


Record or not, it snarled traffic, reducing the average speed in Moscow to 20 kilometers per hour from the usual 50. Moscow traffic police appealed to Moscow drivers not to drive if they didn't have to, said Alexander Mantsevich, spokesman for the city traffic police.


Those who didn't listen found themselves stuck.


"It took 2 1/2 hours to get from the beginning of Leningradsky Prospekt to Tverskaya this morning!" fumed one taxi driver. Normally it takes about 15 minutes, he said.


Malfunctioning traffic lights contributed to the headaches. City police say that moisture often gets inside stoplight control boxes in such weather, making the lights work oddly. Police say they are replacing parts of the system to correct the problem.


But, Mantsevich said, the number of serious accidents did not go up because drivers slow down in bad weather. As of 3:30 p.m. Friday, there had been six serious accidents with one fatality and six hurt - not out of the ordinary for Moscow.


But the slippery streets caused plenty of fender-benders, with the number of car-damaging accidents increasing to 248 on Thursday from the average of 200 per day.


"You know the mentality of Russian drivers - they'll drive as long as it's humanly possible. You need an officer standing by every single driver to force them to follow the rules," Mantsevich complained.


The cars climbed onto the sidewalks, blocked major intersections and drove into oncoming lanes as people tried to make it to their destinations.


Friday morning, the entire city traffic police force was put on alert, meaning all desk officers were made available for street duty. About 1,000 traffic police men were patrolling the streets.


More than 7,500 snow removal trucks were on Moscow streets, plowing and brushing the streets every three hours, said Lyudmila Grigoriyeva, spokesman for Dorinvest, a city-run company responsible for clearing major roads. Normally, they pass through the streets every six hours.


"Nearly 50,000 of our workers, managers and bosses are on duty today," she said.


It costs Moscow 2.8 million rubles to remove a centimeter of snow, said the head of the city's streets department Boris Korshunkov, who was a little touchy when asked about street conditions.


"What sort of explanation do you want?" Korshunkov shouted during a telephone interview. "It's a natural disaster. America would have been stopped by now. If I had more money, I would have shot the clouds before they approached the city."


Police spokesman Mantsevich said car owners often contribute to the problem by ignoring no-parking signs and blocking snowplows. Last year, parliament passed a law forbidding the towing of vehicles without their owners knowledge.


"Sometimes it becomes absurd," Mantsevich said. "There have been cases when street cleaners bring in a truck, lift a car, clean around it and then put it down."