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Iranians Distrusting State Media Warnings Are Stranded By Heavy Snowfall

Snow in Gilan, February 12, 2020.

Thousands of people have been stranded on icy roads as heavy snowfall in northern Iran has blocked nearly all roads from modern highways to rural dirt roads.

At least seven are reported dead and as many as 80 are reported missing. Power and water supplies have been cut off in many places in Gilan province and natural gas supply is patchy as pressure keep falling in the sub-zero temperatures.

Government officials in Gilan and Tehran say relief work has been under way and most roads have been opened, but many on social media speak about continuing problems.

The Iranian meteorological organization issued an early warning about heavy snowfall and avalanches, but many ignored the warning and went on holiday as trust in state-run media has further eroded following the Iranian government's lack of transparency about the missile attack on a Ukrainian airliner in January.

The government that has been celebrating the 1979 Islamic revolution's anniversary the past few days showed its usual reaction of ignoring or denying problems including the heavy snowfall and the alleged spread of coronavirus that has caused concern following the suspicious death of a 63-year-old female patient in Tehran on Tuesday.

The video in the tweet shows cars in deep snow in Gilan

Samaneh Ekvan wrote in a tweet that people did not trust reports and the weather forecast for this week, as they thought the government wanted to prevent them from travelling around in order to keep city streets busy during the celebrations.

Another Twitter user, Reza Kashef blamed crisis management officials for not taking the warnings issued by other parts of the government seriously.

Between one to two meters of snowfall in various parts of the Gilan Province has led to the closure of all schools while many businesses also remain closed as traffic has come to a standstill even within cities. Reports on satellite television show passengers on the road from Tehran to Rasht abandoning their cars and walking to their destination. However, this is not a choice for those with young children or elderly individuals on board.

Entekhab, a news website close to the Rouhani administration reports power and water supply cut off in some cities, although officials insist they have solved all the problems. The agency says only in one region 165,000 people have lost electricity.

Meanwhile, the Iranian official news agency IRNA says as the weather improves from Thursday, ice on the road will make the situation even more dangerous while the warming weather increases the risk of avalanches in mountain roads.

Locals complain that not much has been done including gritting to improve the situation of slippery roads. They say even people at home are left without heating as a result of power outages.

Although the worst situation is in Gilan Province, other parts of the country including Lorestan and Khuzestan are also affected by the snowfall. Parts of Khuzestan including Susa (Shusha), have experienced the first snowfall in written history. According to the local governor in Dezful, some 130 villages have been cut off from the rest of the country as a result of heavy snowfall.

The roads’ authority in Khorasan Province in the northeast also reports a similar situation.

What has exacerbated the problem is the people's distrust in reports on the state-run media and government official's inability to cope with emergencies in spite of early warnings.

The same kind of distrust has caused concerns about public health as coronavirus spreads across Asia and the rest of the world. Iranian airlines were the only companies that handled flights to and from China. Some of Iranian airlines even went out of their way to fly Chinese passengers between Istanbul and destinations in China.

Some 70 Iranian students have been airlifted from the worst affected city Wuhan. When in Tehran, initial reports said they were taken to their homes, but later news broke out that they are being held at a secret quarantine in Tehran which turned out to be a hotel, foreign-based satellite TV reports said showing video of the place.

Iran's Health Minister Saeed Namaki keeps insisting on the state TV that there are no coronavirus cases in Iran but having in mind the most recent record of denials and lack of transparency about the missile attack on the Ukrainian airliner, Iranians find it difficult to believe the all clear vow.

In a post on Twitter, an Iranian finds the start of "categorical denials" alarming. In a reference to President Hassan Rouhani's belated reaction the downing of the Ukrainian passenger aircraft, he says, soon someone would come out and say "I did not know about it. I just woke up and saw that Corona has arrived in Iran."