Georgia was hit by natural gas and power shortages amid freezing temperatures again yesterday as work progressed slowly to repair a pipeline from Russia that had been attacked at the weekend.
Most homes in the capital of this ex-Soviet republic were without gas as overnight temperatures fell as low as -10ºC.
Long lines appeared in the capital Tbilisi as people queued up to fill kerosene canisters for portable heaters and people were selling jewellery and other valuables at pawn shops to buy new heaters and fuel.
In response to the crisis, President Mikhail Saakashvili cut short a visit to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, the president's office said.
The country's problems were compounded by power cuts across Tbilisi and the rest of eastern Georgia overnight.
Georgian Deputy Energy Minister Alexander Khetaguri said that the power problems had been caused by snowstorms that hit a major east-west power line.
"Two major accidents struck Georgia's energy system overnight…. The reasons are being investigated," Pantsulaya said.
Meanwhile, residents struggled to heat their homes by other means, creating a roaring trade in gas cylinders and imported kerosene burners.
Repairs to the Mozdok-Tbilisi pipeline from Russia that was attacked and blown up on Sunday were continuing, but engineers discovered further damage that required replacement of an additional pipeline section, said an official with Russia's Gazprom energy giant.
The Russian prosecutor's office had said on Wednesday that the explosions that occurred just inside Russian territory in the Caucasus Mountains were a result of terrorism.
The disruption caused by the pipeline attacks was compounded by an additional attack on a main power cable bringing electricity from Russia to Georgia.
Tensions between the two countries were increased by the "rose revolution" in late 2003 that brought Saakashvili to power, promising a new pro-Western course.
Weather proves deadly
Freezing weather has killed scores of people in Eastern Europe and snowstorms forced the closure of the Acropolis in Athens and blanketed parts of Sicily and Turkey as the Arctic air pushed south.
Ukraine said 66 people had died there since the freeze set in last week. Neighboring Russia has asked it to restrict gas usage as demand has rocketed during the coldest winter in a generation in the region.
The Romanian Health Ministry said extremely low temperatures in the country had caused 27 deaths in the past three days.
In a statement it said the victims, ranging in age between 33 and 86, died of heart attacks and hypothermia caused by temperatures of about -20ºC. Seven of them were homeless.
Ten people froze to death or died of burns while trying to keep warm in the Czech Republic in recent days after temperatures fell below -30ºC, media said.
The bitter cold has spread to the far south of Europe, regions which normally enjoy milder winters.
(China Daily January 27, 2006)