Four days of heavy snow have disrupted life in the Czech Republic. The country’s international airports and Czech Railways reported long delays and people who set out by car faced snow-drifts and icy roads. The first day of the working week further complicated the situation as thousands of Czechs struggled to get to work. City traffic moved at snails pace and walking proved a major challenge since few pavements had been cleared of snow.
Maintenance crews have been working around-the-clock to keep the main communications clear, but given the amount of snow they are battling against it has not been an easy task. In towns and cities much of the snow cleared from the main roads is piled up on sidewalks which are in a worse state than ever before. Due to a recent change of legislation the responsibility of keeping sidewalks clean of snow has passed from house-owners to municipalities. As a result towns have lost thousands of helpers who kept the pavements clean free of charge and the first real snowstorm of the year has shown that they are simply not up to the task. Some have sent out maintenance workers with shovels – others have given up completely and taken out insurance against possible legal claims in the event of accidents.
Jaromír Jech, the head of the Association of Towns and Municipalities, says that under the present circumstances local authorities are unable to deal with this new responsibility:
“The new law came at the worst possible moment, at a time when the financial crisis has significantly reduced municipal budgets. Money is limited and what we are now investing into clearing pavements is money that should have been used for repairing water pipes, sewage systems, roads and so on. So it is very bad timing. The amendment was prepared too fast. The original idea is good, but there wasn’t enough time to make it more practical.”
The Prague authorities have employed more than a thousand workers to clear pavements and 130 snow-clearing vehicles to clear the streets, but most of the city is still covered with snow. Earlier today, I went to see how people were coping with the situation. Despite the new law, many house-owners have decided to take matters into their own hands:
“I think this is not a standard situation, so people should try to be more helpful than usual. It won’t hurt me to shovel away half a metre of snow. The streets are passable and pavements are more or less clear as well, at least in this district, so I wouldn’t say that the city is not doing enough. It is just not humanly possible to clean all this snow.”
“I can see people making their way through the snow and I don’t want anyone falling and breaking their leg. That’s why I am clearing away the snow. The snow-clearing vehicles have only been here once and the snow just keeps falling.”
Meteorologists say the snow should gradually stop, but it will be replaced by very cold weather, with temperatures dropping as low as -16 degrees Celsius. The cold snap is expected to last until the end of the month.
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