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 January 17, 2003 

Cold Destruction: Unusually hard winter taking its toll on utility services in Yerevan

The hard freeze that brought winter to Yerevan mid-December is the worst in 70 years meteorologists say. And the record-breaking cold has caused numerous problems throughout the city, reminding some of a decade ago when electrical and petrol shortages complicated effects of temperatures on the minus side.

By this season holidays, temperatures were as low as -30 and residents of several hundred buildings in Armenia remained without water and sewerage because utility pipes froze.

Some residents were deprived of drinking water for several weeks, and when pipes did thaw, many cracked dumping sewage water into some apartments and building entryways.

Yerevan mayor Robert Nazaryan promised that all pipes would be repaired by yesterday (January 13), but many people have remained without water.

"This year winter took us unawares" Nazaryan says. "This year some 1,600 buildings could be centrally heated and the inhabitants could avoid the breakdown. But now the central heating is only in 600 buildings because people did not pay."

But still inhabitants in some centrally heated buildings did not avoid the problems either.

Building No 54 of the Malatia-Sebastia district was supposed to be centrally heated as the residents paid in advance. But they did not have heat nor water. When the hot water was made available at the end of December, the pipes had already frozen.

Seda Minasyan's house on Estonakan 14 Street resembled a lake several days ago. When the pipes that are located just near their apartment on the first floor split, her apartment was flooded about five centimeters deep.

The family applied to the office of the housing and communal services of their district. Plumbers fixed the accessible piece of the pipe but warned that in case of another freeze, the pipe will probably crack again.

"They told us that the pipes are old and rusty and it is not possible to change all the pipes, because they are located inside the walls of the building," Minasyan says.

The City Council initiated special brigades to deal with the breakdown. Each of 13 communities of Yerevan set up headquarters with the aim to help residents.

"We had up to 50 calls per day," says Arthur Martirosyan, the deputy chief of the special headquarter service of the City Council.

But some like Samvel Tadevosyan of Hanrapetutyan 76/2 could not wait till the pipe fitter came, because the pipes cracked just near his door and water came into his home. He repaired pipes on his own means, having spent in all around $100.

"I think the problem appears because there is no heat insulation on the pipes. I fixed only the small part of the pipe and I am afraid this is not the end of the problem," he says.

For Tadevosyan and other residents of Hanrapetutyan 76/2 as well as for residents of several houses on Sundukyan street, Shinararner street and several other buildings the water problem created more headaches as the leaks caused short circuits that disrupted service of electricity.

"We had no light for two days," says Inesa Stepanyan, resident of Sundukyan No 2.

"Maybe two days without light is not a problem in summer. But in winter the electricity is the only way to heat our homes."

Short circuits caused by water from cracked pipes caused 45 fires called into the city fire departments.

"This winter brought many unexpected surprises with it," Varazdat Avoyan, the head of the Communities Development Center says. "The communities of each district, the City Council and other institutions should take lessons from the present situation and should take measures to prevent such breakdowns"

For some, there may be a bright side to the suffering caused by winter's unexpected wrath: School children have been granted an extended holiday, as pipes in schools need to be repaired before classes can continue.

"We were supposed to start lessons on January 13. But when the sanitation service visited our school they forbade us to have lessons until we would have water," says Anahit Mkrtchyan, a teacher at School No. 118.

Angelika Hovanisyan, the PR coordinator of the ARMGIDROMET ( the meterological office in Yerevan) says that the cold weather in December and January was conditioned by South-Western arctic cold mass and by Scandinavian anti-cyclone.

"The temperature in January will be as low as 8-10 below zero. According to our datas and to the datas from the Russian meterological office there will be no such hard freeze in the rest of January as it was in December."


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