It takes something unusual on the weather front to perturb the denizens of Kazakhstan’s capital, and the snowstorms that have battered the city this week fit that bill.
On January 11, Mayor Aset Isekeshev declared a state of emergency over the strong winds which have damaged buildings and cars, have cut off power to some neighborhoods and are posing a very real threat to people’s lives. Residents have been warned not to leave home unless strictly necessary.
Government offices, shops and markets have accordingly closed their doors. Children may be rejoicing, however, as classes are off. The only people going to work are the emergency services — police, ambulance workers and so on.
Highways in several regions of Kazakhstan have been closed because of the weather. Operations at the airport in Astana are also suspended.
Emergency service officials say they have deployed all their resources into countering the crisis. More than 1,500 rescue workers and communal service employees are working to deal with the fallout.
By 3 pm on January 11, officials reported they had received 3,100 telephone calls requesting assistance and that 70 people had been rescued after getting stuck in their cars on the highway. No fatalities have been reported.
Predictably, social media users are sharing videos testifying to the scale of the bad weather. Some videos show people being blown off their feet by the wind, while others show people holding for dear life onto lampposts and trees.
The head of Astana’s Saryarka district, Arman Turulbek, expressed anger in an Instagram post at those filming these incidents, saying they should be trying to help instead of just recording videos. Members of the public should be kinder and more considerate toward one another in moments of need, he said.
While strong winds are nothing new for Astana residents, given the city’s position right in the middle of the open steppes, the current conditions are shocking nonetheless. The problem of the strong winds has prompted authorities to pursue some out-of-the-box thinking, such as planting a giant ring of trees in the hope of mitigating the power of the gusts in coming years. Alas, such fixes seem neither sufficiently ambitions nor are they coming soon enough.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.