Snow as high as houses
By Bogdan Cristel
When I was little, my grandfather told me about the winter of 1954, when the army had to shovel them out from under snow so high it covered their house completely. I didn’t believe the story at the time as it seemed like a fib, a fisherman’s tale.
Well, I recently realized my grandfather wasn’t exaggerating. I had never before seen snow that would cover an entire house until this February.
This month I’ve been to eerie white villages, where you would never know what you would find buried under the hills of snow: a house, store, garage, stables, or a tractor. I took photos from atop utility poles. Frustratingly, I couldn’t use many of the pictures because there was no benchmark beyond the ocean of snow, nothing that could frame the incredible reality I was witnessing.
Out on the crop fields, the snow wasn’t higher than 20-30 centimeters because the wind had pushed all of it onto the roads and villages until they were completely submerged. As well, there were people in those houses, most of them elderly.
I spent several days amidst the snow trying my best to tell the story of the people living on the fringe of southeastern Romania. Getting to these places was one of the hardest challenges as most of the roads were covered by meters of snow and closed off. The only way was to drive as closely as possible to the location and then, carrying all my cameras on my back, walk as many kilometers through the snow storm as possible.
The snowflakes the wind pushed onto my face felt like ice needles. Temperatures dropped as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius. The equipment was key. Clothes too thin and you could freeze. Too many clothes and you risked getting to the village soaked after the forced march through snowy fields. Needless to say, I fell in the latter category most of the time.
I was with my Reuters Television colleague Sinisa Dragin and a young photographer, Theodor Pana, near the town of Urziceni trying to reach some isolated villages. We couldn’t get to them because strong winds had just kicked in. We ran into several cars already stranded on the road and knew we risked ending up in the same situation. We shot what we could and decided to turn back as soon as possible, which was easier said than done. The wind kicked the snow onto the road and any car that stopped was soon trapped. We helped push some of them back on the road.
And then, a few kilometers before we got out of the “white area”, we were lucky enough to catch up to a large snow plough with a trailer. We breathed a sigh of relief thinking it would plough the road before us, helping us get back without problems.
But then the plough stopped without warning in the middle of the village of Glodeanu-Silistea. We stopped as well, and then, convinced it had reached its destination, we slowly tried to go beyond it.
That’s when the beast started to back up. We honked repeatedly but in vain. We tried backing up, but it was already too late. The edge of the trailer had already broken through our windshield. We were hooked and several Transformers-like moments followed.
We were in a medium size 4×4, but above us loomed a machine for which we were virtually invisible. It pushed us back some 30 meters and we had no way to escape. All I could hear were raspy sounds of metal and broken glass split that seemed to go on forever.
I still have no idea how but I finally managed to unhook the car and veer away backwards from the plough. We jumped out of the car yelling at the machine driver. Stunned, he told us there was nobody behind him 3 kilometers back so he thought the same applied when he started to back up. He hadn’t even thought to check.
We got out of the situation safe and sound, but for a long time to come I think I’ll flinch whenever a car backs up before mine.
Plus, I bet that when I’m telling this story to my grandchildren they’ll think I’m telling a fisherman’s tale.