Thursday, January 19, 2006

Moscow cold

They're trying to break into jail as city heads for -40C

From Jeremy Page in Moscow

The Times 18 January 2006

VITALY has tried being drunk and disorderly, disturbing the peace, even assaulting a friend — anything to get inside a Moscow police cell.
Any other week, the 42-year-old vagrant would do anything to avoid the city’s notorious police. But with a cold front from Siberia pushing temperatures towards -40C – their lowest in more than half a century — getting arrested has become a matter of life or death.

“At least it’s warm in a cell,” he said. “In this weather, if you can’t find a warm place to sleep, you die.”
On Monday two people froze to death and 14 were taken to hospital with hypothermia in the capital as temperatures plunged from zero to -28C.
Russians are no strangers to harsh weather, but the cold snap has come as a shock after a series of relatively mild winters. The meteorological service told The Times that in the next few days it expected to register some of the coldest temperatures in the capital since 1940, when it hit -42C. The coldest temperature recorded in Russia was -71C (-96F) in the northern region of Yakutia in the 1950s.
Moscow authorities responded by ordering police to suspend their usual practice of turfing the homeless out of stairwells, metro stops and railway stations. Health officials also warned the elderly and infirm to stay at home and those with heart conditions to pause in their doorways to adjust to the cold before going outside.
But it is not just the homeless, old and sick who are at risk from the cold front that has wrought havoc across eastern and central Russia. Many Muscovites fear that the Siberian freeze will cut off their supplies of electricity and hot water, which is still pumped in massive pipes from Soviet-era heating stations.
The celebrated Botkinskaya Hospital suffered a two-hour power cut on Monday, according to one doctor there. “Thank God no one was in the operating theatre or they would have died,” she said.
Yesterday city authorities reduced power supplies to some businesses by up to 90 per cent to conserve energy for hospitals and other basic infrastructure. They said that private homes would not be affected. Nevertheless, the power cuts have rekindled anger at Anatoly Chubais, the oligarch who heads the electricity monopoly and who was widely blamed for a huge blackout in Moscow last summer. Mr Chubais threatened in November to reduce the power to non-essential points if it was below -25C for three days or more.
Nestor Serebryannikov, the former head of the Moscow municipal power utility, said the cuts were unprecedented. “The capital for the first time has come up against a situation where, due to the cold, its demands for energy may well exceed supplies,” he said.
Heating systems have been stretched to breaking point in other towns and cities. In St Petersburg an accident at a power plant left 45 blocks without electricity or heating; in Komi province in northwestern Russia, 83 people — including 66 children — were moved away from their village after a heating failure; in the Samara region in the southwest, a burst main left nearly 10,000 people without central heating or water as the temperature fell to -36 C. There were also heating problems in the western Siberian province of Tomsk when temperatures fell to -53C, the lowest in a century.
So extreme is the cold that authorities in Moscow and St Petersburg have had to supply buses with special “Arctic” diesel fuel. Traffic policemen have also been issued with traditional Russian felt boots.
Moscow Zoo implemented emergency procedures for the first time since the winter of 1978-79, moving most of its animals into heated pavilions. Zookeepers also smashed holes in two ponds to allow aquatic birds access to water and laid straw on the ice to protect their feet. Only a handful of animals, including Amur tigers and, strangely, the African white-tailed gnu, preferred to remain outside.
A few human beings were enjoying the cold, however. Schoolchildren were told they could stay at home if temperatures were below -20C in the morning.
And the “walruses” — swimmers who plunge through holes in the ice in the belief that it cures disease, cleanses the soul and improves the libido — said they would carry on as normal. Four morning and night dips will take place in Moscow tonight to celebrate Orthodox Epiphany.
· Record snowfalls in Japan, with 13ft drifts, killed 100 and injured at least 1,000
· An unusually cold winter has killed hundreds in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, with Delhi seeing 0.2C, its lowest temperature in 70 years
· Sydney recorded its highest temperature since 1939 this month at 44.2C
· Freezing weather and lows of -12C meant much of Britain recorded its coldest December for a decade, while southern England had its driest year since 1921

Plunged Into a Deep Freeze, Russians Pull on Their Speedos

By Kim Murphy

Los Angeles Times 19 January 2006

MOSCOW — In Russia, complaining about the cold in winter is like arguing with the sun for rising — an exercise for fools, not to mention wimps.So as the nation staggered in the grip of a fierce Arctic cold wave that stretched from Finland to Japan, the capital braced for a predicted low of minus 35 degrees early today with characteristic defiance: Dozens of Muscovites stripped down to their bathing suits at midnight and plunged into a tributary of the Moscow River.

God bless Russia!" 28-year-old Gennady Mordvintsev screamed as he dived into a hole in the ice. He emerged, dripping and frosting over quickly, several minutes later."This is why Americans can't understand what a Russian is," boomed Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, stuffed in a fur coat and hat and surrounded by bodyguards after his own encounter with the water. "We've been doing this for a thousand years!"The Orthodox holiday of Epiphany was what drew dozens of swimmers out to the water's edge. But on any given Saturday night, Russians can be seen padding down to the river to dip into the icy water, or stumbling out of their wood-fired banyas, the Russian version of saunas, to plunge headlong and naked into the snow.All week, there have been frequent reminders that this is the land that left the armies of Napoleon and Hitler foundering in its forbidding frosts.While Moscow had already hit minus 22 by mid-evening Wednesday, the temperature had sunk to minus 63 in Yakutsk and minus 70 in the Evenk Autonomous Area of Siberia. Power consumption in the capital reached a record 15,760 megawatts by 6 p.m., nearly three times what Los Angeles uses on its hottest summer days.Twelve people had died of exposure in the Novgorod region by Wednesday, authorities said, and about 100 people had to be evacuated from the village of Yeletsky in the north-central region of Komi when a heating plant failed at 53 degrees below zero."When it's sunny and minus 50, it's one thing. Children can easily go for a walk. But this is a completely different thing — we have a snowstorm and a hurricane going on here, and it was minus 39," said Olga Korolyova, head of administration in Yeletsky.An eerie, hazy gloom settled over Moscow, as city officials dimmed some streetlights and kiosks to save power, and frozen moisture in the air formed a biting haze, finer than sleet and popularly known as "ice needles."Heating plants that pump steam in enormous pipes to apartment buildings all over the city were belching exhaust into the frigid air.Stray dogs stood shivering on the roadsides, while the city's alcoholics and homeless — usually the first casualties of the cold — were hauled off to jail or ushered into railroad stations and other shelters."What Moscow and many other central Russian cities and regions are experiencing now is what we call a deep cold period. Deep cold is dangerous and serious — it can hit you and hit you seriously before you even know something is happening to you," said Yuri Vedeneyev, spokesman for the Moscow Emergencies Ministry."However, we were warned this was coming well in advance and had sufficient time to prepare for it," he said.Meteorologists say a high-pressure zone of Arctic air leaked across the Urals out of Siberia, plunging temperatures in European Russia down to levels normally seen in the colder regions of the east and far north. Moscow was poised to break a record set in 1950, when temperatures fell below minus 22 degrees for three days in a row, said Dmitry Kiktyov, deputy director of the Hydro-Meteorological Center of Russia."There has not been an anomaly of such intensity and duration for a long time," he said.The freeze coincided with the Epiphany, when thousands of Russians flock to rivers and lakes to immerse themselves as a commemoration of the baptism of Christ. Epiphany is always cold, but this year it was "infernally cold," said Father Alexei Uminsky of Moscow, who said his wife had ruled out his participation in the ceremony out of concern for his health.Still, he said, a large and growing number of Russians typically brave the January cold to dunk themselves in water made holy by the holiday blessing."People come in expensive cars, they come in incredible off-road vehicles," he said. "I think first and foremost it is because they miss traditionalism in their lives. They have a desire to return to some roots that have been destroyed."And of course, there's the purely national Russian love for extremes."

Big freeze continues in Moscow

Novosti 19 January 2006

MOSCOW, January 19 - Moscow remains in the grips of extremely low temperatures Thursday, but the cold spell has so far failed to break records, meteorologists said.
The Arctic conditions were enough to stop several clocks on the capital's streets, but the drop to -31°C (-23.8°F) just missed out on the -32°C (-25.6°F) record for January 19 in the last 100 years, which was registered in 1927.
Muscovites and visitors to the capital can take some comfort, though, as the chill does seem to be heading toward the coldest date on record - January 17, 1940 - when the temperature fell to -42°C (-43.6°F).
The current temperature in the Russian capital is -29-30°C (-20.2-22°F) and a slight increase to -27°C (-16.6°) is expected Thursday afternoon.
Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov issued instructions Wednesday to impose a power-saving regime at building sites and markets that do not sell food.
City Hall also called on bosses to make January 19 and 20 days-off "to ease the burden on the capital's power system during the severe cold."


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