The area of Soviet Georgia hit by two major earthquakes Monday was difficult to traverse even before the disaster, said a Salt Lake businessman who visited the region on a trade mission last fall.
Roy Jespersen, a partner in Wasatch Advisors, a Utah investment firm, said that the region around the republic's capital city, Tbilisi, reminded him of the Salt Lake Valley - a beautiful valley flanked by snow-capped mountains.But there, the mountain villages are extremely difficult to get to, Jesperson said. "The roads are very poor," he said, adding that when his group wanted to go to a village to see the local crafts, they could get there only by helicopter.
Jespersen said that the Salt Lake Rotary Club is continuing its efforts toarrange for a Tbilisi high school girl to attend school at Judge Memorial High next year. But Jesperson tried to contact the girl's father Monday and was unable to get through to Tbilisi, about 90 miles southeast of the 7.1 magnitude quake's epicenter.
When the trade group went to Georgia, they met Ika Rukhadze, now a student at Dartmouth University working on a master's degree in business administration.
Rukhadze is from Tbilisi. But he has been so busy working on a project he hadn't heard of the earthquakes until a reporter called him.
"My phone has been hooked up to my computer," he said. "If anyone tried to get me, they couldn't."
Rukhadze said the mountain villages and valley are resort-like in that many people travel to the area to enjoy its natural beauty. But the earthquake damage, added to recent ethnic clashes that have left several people dead, could decimate the area's already struggling economy.
"Georgia is having such a hard time, it is a big mess over there," he said. "And now, this earthquake."