A car completely buried in snow except for a mirror in Washington on Tuesday. (AP)
Washington, Feb. 9: If the Soviets knew that the political and executive centre of America would fold up like touchmenot leaves for the second time in six weeks because of snowfall, they might have somehow persevered and held their nation together to fulfil Nikita Khrushchevs November 1956 prediction, We will bury you, about the USSRs main capitalist enemy.
For four days running, US federal government offices have remained shuttered: actually five days since last Friday when everyone was allowed to leave early as scattered powdery snow started falling in the national capital area that midmorning.
As flakes began to descend on this capital today, prelude to another 10 to 20 inches of fresh snowfall, it seemed very likely that the US federal government may remain practically out of action until February 16, the day after the Presidents Day holiday next Monday.
Some counties like Loudoun, near here, have already announced officially that their schools and similar services will not be functional till Tuesday next week: that makes the shutdown three days short of a fortnight.
President Barack Obama may yet be embarassed to acknowledge such a sweeping abdication of the responsibilities of the federal government of the only superpower.
Massive snowfall is something that Russians and Scandinavians and many other Europeans cope with every year with far greater efficiency and order. But here, this is the third time the federal government has shut down due to bad weather since Obama took office.
Therefore, he may only order federal holidays on a daytoday basis for the rest of the week and only if the snow predicted for later today metrialises. But even if he were to keep the offices open in the event that today's snowfall is minimal, it is painfully clear that Washington is woefully incapable of handling any major emergency.
Yesterday, when groceries and supermarkets opened after three days, shoppers swept through shelves like swarming locusts on a field ready to be harvested.Virtually every item of daily consumption from bread and milk to bottled water and vegetables was emptied: the bare shelves looked like those in General Wojciech Jaruzelski's Poland during the martial law in the 1980s.
America's heavy reliance on trucking for deliveries to the retail market meant fresh supplies could only arrive when roads were cleared of snow and ice. It was not clear last night how long that would take.
Long queues everywhere for every item of regular househld use, as people resorted to panic buying, were reminiscent of Moscow during the long years of stagnation under Leonid Brezhnev.
But many of those who bought trolleys full of perishable or frozen foods went home only to find that power had gone off and that their purchases could not be preserved in freezers or refrigerators.
At one point during last weekend, about half a million people in the US midAtlantic region were without power. Since then, official estimates have varied from 200,000 down to 80,000, but these figures may be fudged.
In one part of Montgomery county near Washington, which lost power on Friday night, lights came on yesterday, but only during daylight hours.
Yet, for statistical purposes, power is assumed to have been restored in that area, where people are still huddled in unheated houses under blankets and in the dark. In many such houses, occupants are unable to cook because cooking ranges and ovens run not on gas, but on electric power.
For the authorities in and around Washington, this winter's two snowstorms could not have come at a more inopportune time. The economic crisis has already strained their district, county and state budgets forcing lay-offs and redundancies.
The snow emergencies in Maryland, a state that borders Washington, a vital link to the capital's functioning, has compounded the state's budget burden. Maryland had already spent at least $10 million in excess of the its budgeted amount for snow clearing before the last storm.
In nearby Virginia, the state's department of transportation has exhausted its currently budgeted amount of $79 million. It turned to a reserve fund of $25 million to deal with last weekend's accumulation of snow.
If the state is hit again by another winter strom today, money will have to come at the cost of road repairs and other necessary maintenance programmes.
In all this, privatisation, that mantra of capitalism, may have played havoc.
In Virginia, for instance, 90 per cent of snow removal is handled by private contractors, who hire Mexican and other Hispanic workers, many of them illegal migrants, at low cost for the job. Most of them have never seen snow in their home countries, much less dealt with it.
This week, the result of their shoddy work is in evidence everywhere. Today, 48 hours after the snow stopped falling during the weekend, it took an hour or more to drive in the national capital area on a trip which would normally have taken 15 minutes.
Public transport here is inadequate at the best of times. But even that is still in tatters after the weekend storm.