Mountaineers Tame Moscow's Killer Icicles

M O S C O W, March 16, 2001 -- Spring has finally sprung in Moscow after the worst Russian winter in 50 years. The cold is over, but the icicle season has begun.

Moscow's icicles aren't the pretty kind. They hang from rooftops in huge, dirty lumps that can weigh hundreds of pounds.

And when the sun comes out, as it did this week, they begin to melt — and kill. Three Muscovites have been killed by falling ice this winter. Sixty-eight others have been injured, according to police reports.

The most recent victim was an 18-year-old private at an army barracks in the northwestern part of the city. In February, a 10-year-old girl was left with brain damage when a large icicle fell on her head as she was leaving school.

Prudent Pedestrians

It's now a balmy 50 degrees, and Muscovites are being careful. They look up a lot, and often walk in the street rather than beside tall buildings. That might be because of the sidewalks, where the ice can be up to four inches thick.

As the icicles melt, they drip onto the sidewalks. By the end of winter, the ice underfoot is pitted with holes and can be almost impossible to walk on.

You have to be careful where you park your car, too. Tatiana Tatarenko, an analyst for an oil company, left her car across the street from her office one morning, under a six-story building.

"When I parked I looked up at the roof and thought what would happen if the ice fell," she recalls. "But it was a new building so I thought they'd have people to take care of the ice."

She came back at lunch to find that the ice across the whole front of the building had crashed down in one block, four car lengths across. A Range Rover took the brunt of it, snapping the block in two. But one end landed on Tatarenko's Zhiguli, smashing the roof in.

Danger Money

The city employs 25,000 people to clear ice and snow. The most difficult jobs go to an elite group of amateur mountaineers, who use ropes and climbing equipment to get to drainpipes and overhanging eaves.

The climbers make good money clearing ice, and many use it to fund summers climbing in the Caucasus mountains.

Snow plow drivers come out at night to clear the roads. They do a pretty good job, which might be why Muscovites tolerate their cowboy antics: the huge trucks can sometimes be seen doing 180 degree skids and other maneuvers on the city's boulevards.

ABCNEWS' Sergiusz Morenc in Moscow contributed to this report.

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