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Fears of injuries close schools as Tbilisi weathers deep freeze

By Anna Kamushadze
Tuesday, January 15

A menacing layer of ice has settled on Tbilisi streets and sidewalks, sending citizens splaying and cars careening as sub-zero temperatures keep some students and workers at home.

“My neighbor was walking to work, when he slipped on the ice and ended up in the hospital,” recounts a horrified Tbilisi university student, Lana. “Now he has a GEL 2000 medical bill.”

A Tbilisi City Hall spokesperson told the Messenger yesterday they are tackling the icy streets throughout the city.

“We are regularly putting out salt on the ice, and as you can see the sidewalks are cleared in central Tbilisi, with no problems moving around in other districts,” the spokesperson insisted.

But a cautious stroll through the capital’s center reveals sidewalks very much covered with slick, dangerous ice.

“We were slipping all the time walking out of the university,” complained a student at the Vake branch of Tbilisi State University. “I’m scared of being hospitalized before we make it to the metro station.”

The cold weather and bad roads are giving some Georgian students an extra week of vacation, Education Minister Bela Tsipuria told journalists.

“The winter holidays are over, but due to unusual frosts in eastern Georgia, we recommend schools prolong their holidays and restart studies after a week,” Tsipuria stated over the weekend.

Some urge their fellow citizens to grin and bear it.

“This winter is fine, of course there will be snow and ice. But we weren’t prepared, and people are panicking,” Shalva, a taxi driver, said. But he also berated City Hall for its apparent lapse in attention, saying he has witnessed more than a few car accidents on the city’s slippery roads.

“Someone should do something about the streets,” he said. “City Hall must put salt on the roads.”

Businesses are suffering as well. Davit, an engineer with the oil company Carnargo Georgia, said they had to stop drilling at their wells in Kakheti province, for the first time in years, due to the temperature.

“We need to move the drilling equipment out of the ground, but because it’s frozen over we can’t do our work. The company is taking losses,” he grumbled.

The cold weather may not be unprecedented, but by one handy metric—ice cover on Tbilisi’s Mtkvari River—it is certainly unusual.

The last time the Mtkvari completely froze over was in 1962, according to the Environment Ministry. But two nights ago, a pane of ice lay over the stretch of water near the Ortachala hydroelectric power plant as temperatures dipped, MediaNews reports.

The Environment Ministry predicts a tantalizing rise in temperatures in the next few days, but there are no forecasts yet on when City Hall might get to work on the roads.