Big freeze mocks America's leaders

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The Independent Online
Washington - The politicians who run the world's most powerful country learnt the humbling lesson yesterday that hard as they strive to shape the course of humanity they cannot restrain the whims of Mother Nature, writes John Carlin.

As if to underline the colossal presumption of trying to balance the national account in seven years, supposing as it does an ability to anticipate what will happen to the world economy between now and 2002, President Bill Clinton and Republican leaders were forced to call off planned budget talks yesterday because of bad weather.

What was more, Democrat and Republican leaders having agreed on Saturday to reopen the government after three weeks of virtual paralysis, the heaviest snowfall in Washington in years looked likely to prevent the vast majority of government employees from going back to work today.

The National Weather Service said the snowstorm, which struck Washington on Saturday evening and carried on all day yesterday, was of "historic proportions". But last night the snow stopped, casting doubt on earlier predictions that it might break the 28ins record for this century, set in 1922.

None the less, central Washington was covered with a foot and half (45cm) of snow by yesterday afternoon.

The initial impact was felt mostly by people who entertained notions of travel - even to the local supermarket. Both city airports were closed and the roads were empty, save for the occasional snow plough, four-wheel drive vehicle and demented driver. Skiers were spotted advancing down the middle of suburban streets, heavily wrapped against a temperature of -8C.

An underground train driver was killed when his brakes failed.