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SNOW

Cold spell puts Swedish homes in the dark

A cosy night at home ended in a blackout for around 14,500 people in central Sweden on Tuesday evening when the pressure to keep warm caused mass power cuts.

As temperatures plummeted to minus 18 degrees in the capital, Stockholmers decided it was time to turn up the heat.

A resulting power cut which started at 5pm affected around 3,000 homes which were without electricity for up to six hours.

Those worst affected were inhabitants in Dalarö and Ornö, just outside the city, and customers of energy company Vattenfall.

“The power simply became too much for some lines when people turned their radiators up,” said Vattenfall spokesperson Magnus Örvell.

By 11pm electricity had been restored to most homes in the area.

Around 11,500 Fortum customers in central Sweden were also left in the dark on Tuesday evening. In the Stockholm suburb of Täby, 8,209 homes suffered from the power cut.

Engineers worked throughout the night and by Wednesday morning the number was reduced to 600.

”Things break due to an overload when it gets cold,” Fortum engineer Fredrik Beckius told newspaper Expressen. ”We have brought extra people in,” he added.

“Should it get colder we will have to deal with the situation.”

Swedes can expect temperatures to plummet even further with weather forecasters predicting minus 40 degrees in Dalarna and minus 20 degrees in Stockholm later in the week.

There were no reports of power trouble in northern Sweden despite the lowest temperature of the season recorded at Hemavan airport in Lappland, which reached 38.8 degrees.

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WEATHER

VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe

Stockholm's snow-topped buildings may look charming, but heavy snowfall can be dangerous. An army of 'sweepers' take to the city's rooftops to clear them of snow in a carefully managed operation.

VIDEO: Meet the rooftop snow clearers keeping Stockholm safe
Rooftop snow cleaner Andrei Pilan clears buildings in Stockholm's picturesque old town. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Teetering on the edge of a black tin roof ten metres (33 feet) above ground, Andrei Plian and Alex Lupu clear a thick white blanket of snow off a building in Stockholm's historic Gamla Stan (Old Town), while their colleague on the street below keeps watch to warn pedestrians passing by.

While to many the job would be vertigo-inducing, for Plian and Lupu – two roofers by trade – it gives them a chance to admire the view.

“Being here on the roof and looking up at the sky, you feel that freedom,” Plian tells AFP, seemingly ignoring the biting subzero chill.

Secured with ropes, carabiners and a safety harness, he climbs the few remaining steps on a ladder attached to the roof and breaks the serene quiet of the sunny February morning with a clank as his shovel hits the tin roof.

Click on video below to watch:


The constant clearing of snow from the city's roofs is first and foremost done for “the safety of the people”, but also to maintain the buildings, many of which are hundreds of years old.

“If there is too much snow on the roof it is too heavy for it so you have to take it off,” the 36-year-old says

A ten-year roofing veteran, he moves around fluidly and with confidence. Getting the job done quickly is key as more roofs are waiting, but safety remains a top priority.

“Every time you have to think about safety, it's the number one rule. You don't have room for a mistake here. If you make one mistake it could be your last,” Plian says.

In early February, another snow clearer was seriously injured while clearing a roof in the northern Swedish town of Umeå, with initial findings showing he wasn't wearing his safety harness.

Under Swedish law, property owners are responsible for clearing snow and ice off their buildings if it threatens to fall and injure someone, but accidents are rare.

“As far as I can remember there has only been two deaths in the last 20-30 years or so,” Staffan Moberg, spokesman for the insurer industry group Svensk Försäkring, told AFP.

In one case in 2002, a 14-year-old died after being struck by a large block of ice that broke off a building on Stockholm's main shopping street Drottninggatan.

Moberg added that they don't keep statistics on incidents since they are rarely requested, and while accidents do happen on occasion, “the consequences are mostly not lethal and very seldom even severe”.

But after every fresh snowfall, signs immediately sprout up on sidewalks and facades warning passers-by of the risk of falling snow and ice, awaiting the arrival of the “snowploughs” in the sky.

While Plian and Lupu are busy at work on the roof above, Fredrik Ericsson is tasked with ensuring the safety of pedestrians down below.

Using a high-pitched whistle, he signals their comings and goings: when he blows his whistle once the shovelling stops to let people pass, and two whistles signals the all-clear to resume work.

Ericsson concedes that it can be a tricky task as people are often oblivious, sometimes wilfully, to the work going on.

“They don't show that much respect, they just walk past, so I have to stop and yell at them,” he explains. “They don't see the danger.”

By AFP's Helene Dauschy

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