Snow blankets several Iranian cities, shuts roads, schools
Heavy snowfall blanketed much of Iran on Sunday, closing schools and airports while trapping cars on major intercity highways.
The storm which began late Saturday touched more than 20 provinces and two-thirds of the population, delivering its heaviest punch to the north where it dumped some 80 centimeters of snow in the altitudes.
Some motorists on a major highway between the capital Tehran and Karaj to its west had to spend a grueling 10 hours or so for a travel of 42 kilometers as drifting snow and fender-benders stranded thousands of commuters.
Flights were canceled across much of the country, including Tehran where planes were diverted to the central cities of Isfahan and Yazd.
A heavily used rail service between Tehran and the holy city of Mashhad was also suspended due to the snow buildup. Pilgrims were given temporary shelter at the mausoleum of Imam Khomeini near Tehran as another major highway between Tehran and the holy city of Qom remained closed.
In Tehran, the storm apparently caught authorities off guard as they dawdled until late morning on whether to declare state offices closed. Parts of the capital reported outages in some neighborhoods because broken branches had knocked down power lines.
Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh gave assurances that there was no disruption in gas supply across the country but advised consumers to economize.
Authorities also urged motorists to drive carefully amid reduced visibility and ice patches forming on many roads.
Police said they had helped many stranded commuters in the north and the west, but the extent of the blizzard has yet to emerge, with many towns and villages likely to have been cut off from the outside world.
This is the first major snowfall of the season, generating a bout of hope in the country which has been witnessing one of its worst dry spells in decades this year.