Freeze mocks America's leaders

JOHN CARLIN

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.

As if to underline the colossal presumption of the attempt to balance the US national account in seven years, presupposing as that does an ability to anticipate what will happen to the world's economy between now and the end of 2002, President Bill Clinton and Republican leaders were forced to call off planned budget negotiations yesterday because of bad weather.

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

The National Weather Service said yesterday that the snowstorm, which struck Washington on Saturday evening, was of "historic proportions". If predictions were correct that the snow would continue to fall through the night until this morning, the blizzard looked likely to break all records for this century. With snow coming down at an average of one inch (2.5cm) an hour, central Washington was covered with a foot and half of snow by yesterday afternoon. Three feet might have fallen by the time Washingtonians get out of bed today, the experts said, exceeding the record for this century, set in 1922, of 28ins (71cm).

The initial impact of the snow, which fell without respite all day yesterday, was felt mostly among people who had entertained notions of travel - even to the local supermarket. Save for the occasional snowplough, four-wheel drive vehicle and demented driver, the roads of Washington were empty - though some people were spotted advancing down the middle of suburban streets on skis.

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