Scores die in record Russia freeze
CNN.com, Jan. 21, 2006
MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) -- Russia's coldest winter in a generation killed seven more people overnight, lifting the death toll in Moscow to 123 and putting huge pressure on the Soviet-era heating and power network.
"The Moscow energy system has never sustained such a load," Anatoly Chubais, chief executive of state electricity monopoly Unified Energy System, said on Friday.
Temperatures in the capital have plunged to a 26-year low of minus 30 Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit) and Chubais was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying that electricity consumption hit a record on Thursday.
Exports of gas and electricity have been cut back to provide for increased domestic demand, and the exceptionally cold weather in Siberia has halted oil production in many places.
Russia is the world's second largest oil exporter and supplies a quarter of Europe's gas.
Temperatures in neighboring Ukraine dropped to minus 27 Celsius, and gas giant Gazprom agreed to let Ukraine take extra supplies of Russian gas, thus reducing gas supplies to Europe.
In Minsk, a spokesman for the Belarus weather center said the overnight temperature of 28.6 Celsius was the lowest ever for Jan. 20, beating the 1907 record of minus 28 Celsius.
Gazprom, which reduced exports to Europe this week, said its system was working flat out. "Our system is indeed working at capacity in terms of production, transportation and the use of gas from underground storage," a Gazprom official told Reuters.
"But it is working stably and we have no doubts that it is going to continue doing so during the period of extreme cold, no matter how long it lasts," he said.
Emergency services in Moscow said that seven people died overnight from exposure, and Interfax reported that a further 22 were being treated in the capital's hospitals.
This would bring to 123 the number of people who have died from cold in Moscow since the end of October, most of them homeless.
A bitter north wind and driving snow kept Moscow shivering on Friday, though the temperature edged above minus 30 Celsius.
"The temperature is actually higher on the thermometer but it feels much colder because of the stronger winds and higher humidity," Natalya Yershova, an aide to the head of Russia's weather service (Rosgidromet), told Reuters.
The cold weather, which has also moved into eastern Europe and the Baltic states, will ease over the weekend but temperatures will drop again later next week, she said.
Russia's power infrastructure, from power stations to the heating system, has had little investment since the fall of the Soviet Union 14 years ago.
The electricity system, some of it nearly 70 years old, has so far coped with the challenge as people turned up the heating, but there are fears of blackouts.
"Every day we are seeing a new record load on the system. Yesterday was a record in both the country and in Moscow," a UES spokeswoman said. "So far, all the electricity stations are coping with the load."
Russia's weather center said on its Web site that daytime temperatures would stay well below minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit) for at least five more days.
This year is the coldest in Moscow since the winter of 1978-1979, when temperatures fell to minus 38 Celsius (minus 36 Fahrenheit) in the capital.
The cold snap has put many trolley-buses out of action, while passenger numbers on the underground railway system have swelled because drivers cannot start their cars. Big display advertising has been banned to save energy.
Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved
Moscow Shivers in Coldest Winter in 26 Years
Reuters News Service, Jan. 20, 2006
MOSCOW - Russia shivered in its coldest spell for a generation on Thursday with temperatures in Moscow plunging overnight to minus 30 Celsius, killing the homeless and drunks, and threatening power supplies.
In Siberia, a bus sank through the ice while crossing the Yenisei River, killing two people, a spokesman for the Emergency Ministry said. The other 20 passengers were rescued, some of whom had managed to climb onto the roof of the bus.
Moscow's coldest spell in 26 years brought out the quirkiest in the Russian character with one animal trainer feeding an elephant a bucket of vodka to warm it up -- only to watch the drunken beast set about wrecking the central heating system.
Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky led other publicity-hungry politicians by plunging into a bitterly cold pond in early morning Christian Orthodox ceremonies.
In Moscow, emergency medical services quoted by the Interfax news agency said a further seven people had died overnight from exposure and another 25 people were being treated in hospital.
The agency said a total of 116 people had succumbed to the cold in Moscow since the end of October.
Many victims are often drunks who perish in outlying areas after passing out, their bodies sometimes remaining covered by snow for weeks until a thaw comes.
The cold quickly depleted mobile phone batteries, played havoc with lifts and even seemed to jam public cash dispensers.
Several enterprising Muscovites turned a quick profit by passing along ranks of stalled cars, leasing out their jump leads to frustrated motorists.
According to one newspaper, a 45-year-old man in Mordovia, east of Moscow, was treated for frostbite to four fingers for talking too long on a mobile phone in the freezing temperatures.
With experts predicting temperatures in the Russian capital to fall possibly to minus 34 Celsius (minus 29 Fahrenheit) on Friday, and even colder in rural areas, oil output in the country continued to be affected.
In Noyabrsk in the Arctic part of Western Siberia, Noyabrskneftegaz oil company suspended drilling operations because of the extreme cold, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Unified Energy System, Russia's power monopoly, said it may be forced to cut electricity supplies to Finland by as much as 30 percent because it barely had enough to supply its own consumers.
UES said it expected a new spike in domestic power consumption on Thursday as people plugged in their electric heaters for extra warmth.
Russia on Wednesday reduced gas supplies to Europe and trimmed back its oil output because of the extreme cold. Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said the country may draw on its modest strategic fuel reserves. He gave no details.
State schools have given parents the option of keeping their children at home. Police have been told to find places for the homeless to shelter rather than clear them from doorways, stairwells and metro stations as they normally do.
"The present cold is unique by its duration, which will either be a record or be close to a record," Russia's chief meteorologist Roman Vilfand was quoted as saying on Thursday.
This year is the coldest since the winter of 1978-1979, when temperatures dropped to minus 38 degrees Celsius. The 1940 Moscow record of minus 42.1 degrees Celsius could be broken, the newsru.com Web site reported, citing meteorologists.
No one was prepared to say how long the cold would last.
Russians are proud of the legendary frosts that defeated the armies of Napoleon and Hitler and publicity-conscious male politicians sought to use the occasion to enhance their image.
Ultranationalist Zhirinovsky led the way jumping into a small lake in a tradition marking Christian Orthodox Epiphany.
In Strogino, on the city's outskirts, other Orthodox believers, some of them old people dressed in long shirts, trooped from church down a lake where they lowered themselves into the bitter waters, immersing their heads and crossing themselves three times in accordance with tradition.
"I'm not scared of minus 30. I do this every year usually in the north. It's a lot colder there," businessman Viktor Shuliakovsky told Reuters.
Several killed as bitter cold hangs over Russia
Still, many mark Russian Orthodox holiday by plunging into icy waters
The Associated Press, Jan. 19, 2006
MOSCOW - An extreme cold spell caused more deaths among Russians stranded on frigid streets Thursday, while thousands of revelers plunged into icy waters for an annual ritual marking a Russian Orthodox holiday.
Moscow shivered through its fourth day of a cold snap, with temperatures dropping to minus 24 degrees overnight the lowest recorded temperature on Jan. 19 since 1927, said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a Moscow weather official.
Seven people died of exposure in the capital in the past day, Moscow ambulance service chief Igor Elkis said. At least 31 people have died across the western part of the country since the cold spell swept in from Siberia late Monday, but the number is likely to be higher because many areas have not reported such deaths.
In a town outside Moscow, thousands were without heat overnight after a water main broke, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. A similar accident left thousands shivering in Siberias Chita region, about 3,000 miles east of Moscow near the Chinese border.
The cold snap coincided with Thursdays Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany, and many defied warnings from doctors and priests by jumping into holes cut into thick ice on rivers and ponds to cleanse themselves.
The ritual imitates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Many took the plunge around midnight Wednesday, with temperatures near their overnight lows.
Jumping into the water in such temperatures is the most intense feeling, one man in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg told state-run Channel One television after taking a dip, his eyebrows rimed with frost.
On Wednesday, electricity consumption nationwide hit 146,000 megawatts a record high since the Soviet collapse 15 years ago, the head of national electricity monopoly RAO Unified Energy Systems, Anatoly Chubais, said in televised comments.
In Moscow, where a construction boom is in full swing and the gray streets of the Soviet era have turned into glitzy thoroughfares festooned with bright lights, electricity consumption reached a record of more than 15,300 megawatts, RAO UES said.
Traffic was light in the capitals normally jammed streets because many motorists could not start their cars.
Outside one apartment building, residents hefted car batteries back into their vehicles after taking them home overnight to keep them warm. Others desperately tried, and failed, to jump-start their cars.
At a nearby bus stop, morning commuters ran in place to fend off the cold.
Many parents kept their children home. At one Moscow school, three children in a class of more than 20 showed up, and at another, a boy was sent home when none of his classmates came.
The mercury was expected to rise toward minus 4 over the weekend in Moscow, Pozdnyakova said.
On Wednesday, Italy, Croatia and Hungary reported decreased supplies of Russian gas from the state-controlled monopoly, OAO Gazprom, which were attributed to domestic demand in Russia. Gazprom said it was adhering to contracts with European customers, but some applications for extra gas had been declined.
European Commission spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny said it was not a major disruption and decreases have occurred in previous winters.
© 2006 The Associated Press.