The aftermath of a disaster

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Thousands of people were forced to spend one or two nights in their cars on the road or in roadside buildings after a snowstorm crippled major traffic routes in Hungary before the national holiday long weekend of March 15-17. 

The unusual March snowfall was followed by wind gusts of 100 km/h, and on top of motorways M1 and M7, dozens of other major roads were blocked across the country.The snow also left some 100,000 people without electricity.

By Sunday night, some 13 roads were still blocked, and some 20,000 households still lacked electricity, according to public road maintainer Magyar Közút Zrt and electricity supplier E.On Zrt.

Outdoor festivities and other events commemorating the national holiday were all cancelled by governing Fidesz and the opposition parties.

While thousands were stuck in the snow overnight, the Interior Ministry used the infrastructure of two mobile providers, Magyar Telekom and Vodafone Hungary, to send text messages to subscribers. The messages read "We will help you! Don’t leave your car! If you run out of fuel, sit in another vehicle!" Such action of the ministry triggered controversies, as it was interpreted as "help" by the ministry, but it was dubbed as "free promotion, while doing nothing" by critics of the government. Hungary’s third mobile provider, Telenor Hungary refused to provide the ministry with its infrastructure for free, Telenor subscribers, therefore, have not received the message.

In the meantime, Austria helped out Hungary by sending ten snow plows that cleaned the M1 motorway between the Austro-Hungarian border and the outskirts of Győr. Ironically, the March 15 national holiday is commemorating Hungary’s revolution against their Austrian rulers, the Habsburgs, in 1848.

"We are 100% satisfied with the works of the Disaster Management," government spokesman András Giró-Szász said on Monday morning. Interior Minister Sándor Pintér told commercial televison channel ATV earlier, that he was satisfied with the rescue operations, but was dissatisfied with the citizens, calling them "undisciplined", as many were on the road despite preliminary warnings of the snowstorm. Many government and public officials were also stuck on the road, including Hungarian Science Academy chairman and József Pálinkás, who was rescued from the M1 motorway by a special squad sent by the municipality of Győr county.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spent the national holiday at an EU-meeting in Brussels, and after reviewing the rescue operations, he went on traveling to Jordan on Monday morning. The Interior Ministry is about to prepare a report on the disaster and the relief works by early days of this week.

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