As Europe’s northernmost major city, you would think Saint Petersburg would be prepared to face the hazards of winter. But for the past two years, residents have been left to deal with dangerous giant icicles practically on their own.
In the winter of 2009, three people were killed and at least 185 others injured by hard, pointed icicles falling off buildings, some as big as six meters long. Official statistics for the winter of 2010 have not yet been published, but according to some reports, more than 340 people were injured during the particularly snowed-up week from December 13 to December 20 due to ice-related accidents (including road accidents).
Last winter, Saint-Petersburg governor Valentina Matvienko proposed the idea of cleaning city roofs with laser beams, but the technique has yet to be tried out. Until then, the giant icicles continue to be removed the old-fashioned way: with wrenches and ice picks. However, there is an acute shortage of trained city workers doing the job in a safe and professional way. As a result, residents often remove the ice themselves, or hire unqualified workers to do so, with disastrous results.
A group of men remove frozen-up blocs of snow from a building’s gutter, indiscriminately dropping the heavy chunks on parked cars below. Video posted on YouTube by zhenichkka on March 12, 2010.
A giant icicle crashes into a glass veranda after two men dislodge it from the roof above. Video posted on YouTube by PavelRots on January 9, 2010.
Post written with freelance journalist Ostap Karmodi.
"Elderly people who survived the siege of Leningrad are saying that even during the war, authorities did a better job at removing the snow and ice."
Natalya Khatzayuk, 31, is a chief accountant in Saint-Peterburg, currently on maternity leave.
We forced were to remove icicles from the roof of our apartment building ourselves early December because city workers did nothing about them for three weeks. In ten days, the icicles grew to the extent that it was dangerous to walk near the building. Some were three floors long. I was afraid that my child would be hurt by them, so I had to do something about them.
It's impossible to go to the roof without safety equipment because roofs like ours, in the historic city centre, are slanted and very slippery. So my husband had to hang out from the window and pick at the huge icicles with a stick. I stood below, with my child, to prevent pedestrians from being hurt. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
Afterwards the ice got even worse, and we were beginning to consider calling high rise workers and paying them to remove the icicles ourselves, but then the city finally cleaned the roof. The cleanup only helped for a while, though. Since then, the icicles have grown back to their original size.
The problem is that the roofs in Saint-Petersburg are not well insulated, so they ice up fast. However, this is the second year in a row that the cleanup operations have been so poor, and that ice blocks have grown so huge and dangerous. Citizens are blaming the government for the terrible security conditions, with good reason. The past two winters have not been any colder or more snowy than previous years, it’s the city’s response that has been inadequate. Elderly people who survived the siege of Leningrad are saying that even during the war, authorities did a better job at removing the snow and ice.
This winter, sidewalks are constantly iced up. Add to that the threat of the icicles hanging overhead, and you see why pedestrians are forced to walk on the street alongside cars. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a bigger number of traffic accidents this year than previous ones.”
All photos by Natalya Khatzayuk.