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#3 - JRL 7009
January 8, 2003
Cold snap wreaks havoc across Russia

The New Year and Christmas holidays saw a spell of bitterly cold weather throughout Russia with temperatures dropping as low as -30 degrees Celsius in Moscow, - 48 in the Kola Peninsula and below 50 in Siberia. In the capital alone 6 people have died of hypothermia in the past 24 hours. However, the Moscow weather bureau on Wednesday calmed desperate Muscovites with promises that the next few days would bring warmer weather.

In the early hours of Wednesday the temperature in snowbound Moscow dropped to minus 26 degrees Celsius. The coldest temperature in Moscow overnight was -31 Celsius (-24 Fahrenheit), recorded at Moscow State University on a hill overlooking the city centre, said Valery Lukyanov, an official at the Moscow city and regional weather bureau. In some areas of the Moscow Region the temperature dropped to minus 34 Celsius. According to meteorologists' forecasts, it will be warmer in the afternoon, when temperatures are set to rise to about minus 20 Celsius.

Heavy snowfalls on New Year's Eve turned Moscow into a fairyland for children and winter sports lovers. But the bitter frost that followed robbed many of them of the chance to enjoy it. Christmas festivities that took place throughout Moscow on January 7 attracted less people than usual. In most places, public performers and soldiers summoned to observe law and order were more numerous than the spectators.

Snowfalls and freezing temperatures created serious problems both for the municipal authorities and motorists. Cars parked or abandoned on roadsides hindered snowploughs from clearing the city thoroughfares. Huge snowdrifts piling up on the roads have turned into icy blocks restricting traffic.

The overnight frost claimed 6 lives in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday morning citing emergency medical officials. Twenty-five other people were hospitalized with hypothermia or frostbite, agencies said. The fatalities brought the total of recorded deaths from cold weather in Moscow this autumn and winter to 239. Many of the victims are drunks who doze off in the open air, or the homeless, who are often forced out of warm public places such as underground and train stations by the police.

The freezing temperatures have hit not only Moscow. The residents of Russia's northern Murmansk Region faced the coldest weather there in years. On the Kola Peninsula temperatures reached - 48 Celsius overnight Tuesday, ITAR-TASS reported. The temperature dropped below - 40 in Monchegorsk, in the village of Murmashi and on the border between Russia and Finland.

In the meantime, Russian news agencies report that life is returning to normal in the freezing villages of Yakutia, Russia's vast diamond-mining province in eastern Siberia. According to ITAR-TASS, restoration work is continuing in the village of Saskylak, where on December 28 a boiler-house went out of service as a result of a fire. According to the duty officer at the Emergencies Ministry, by the morning of January 8, 1,150 metres of heating mains had been restored, and the heating to 12 residential apartment blocks had been resumed. Yet, it is still well below freezing in 50 other blocks, where 259 people -- including 107 children -- live.

An avalanche alert has been issued in the mountainous areas of the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, popular among tourists. The warning was conveyed to all search and rescue services and local residents have been informed via radio. According to the Kamchatka avalanche control centre, the risk is foremost in the Ust-Bolsheretskiy, Yelizovsky and Ust-Kamchatksiy districts of the province.

Valdai in the Novgorod Region has also fallen victim to the weather. As a result of a burst heating pipe thousands of local residents have had no heating in their homes for two days now, while the temperature on Tuesday dropped below minus 30 degrees Celsius. Repair work has been going on round the clock, the head of the Valdai district administration Vladimir Korolyov reported on Wednesday.

In Russia's Far East six people died in snowdrifts as a powerful cyclone swept across the island of Sakhalin bringing heavy snowfalls and gale-force winds. Five people were found dead in their cars, apparently killed by exhaust fumes, and another person was found suffocated after an avalanche, the press service of the regional emergencies department told ITAR-TASS on Wednesday.

Rescuers found and saved 39 people who had been trapped in their cars. The snowfall over the past two days in Sakhalin exceeded the six-week norm, with 11 snow slides reported in the western part of the island. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk airport, which was closed for two days, has started operating again, while power supplies to 29 villages have been restored. In three Sakhalin districts some roads remain closed to traffic.

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