- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

MOSCOW — Normally stoic in the face of the legendary cold that defeated the armies of Napoleon and Hitler, even Russians are complaining about the minus 35-degree Fahrenheit temperatures that have caused more than 30 deaths and threatened power supplies.

“We’re used to it being cold, but not like this,” said Ludmila Loifer, 48, shivering in a sheepskin coat and fur hat as she rushed through the nearly empty streets of downtown Moscow yesterday. “Neither of my two cars would start this morning … I should never have left the house.”

Daytime temperatures in Moscow hovered around minus 22 yesterday and were expected to drop overnight to minus 35 in the capital and minus 40 in the surrounding countryside. Yesterday’s temperatures were the lowest recorded on Jan. 19 since 1927 and meteorologists warned that the 1940 Moscow record of minus 43.8 degrees was in danger of being broken.

Temperatures were expected to warm to a balmy minus 4 over the weekend, but weather forecasters said the arctic cold is likely to set in again next week and last through the remainder of January.

With electricity and gas use reaching record levels as Russians fought to keep warm, the government struggled to maintain energy supplies at home while preserving exports of natural gas — a sensitive issue since a price dispute with Ukraine earlier this month that decreased deliveries to Europe.

Seven persons died as a result of exposure to the cold in Moscow yesterday, raising the total number of deaths in European Russia to 31 since the chill swept in from Siberia late Monday.

Emergency services warned against alcohol consumption during the cold snap, saying that many of the fatalities were resulting from people passing out while intoxicated and freezing to death.

The streets of the capital, normally bumper-to-bumper with traffic, were eerily quiet, with drivers reluctant to venture out or unable to start their cars. Enterprising young men were driving around the city with jumper cables, offering to start cars for a fee.

The electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems reported that consumption in Moscow had reached a record high as residents used electric heaters to try to keep warm.

Domestic demand for gas was also soaring, and yesterday countries including Italy, Hungary and Croatia reported decreased supplies of Russian gas from the state-controlled monopoly Gazprom.

Moscow retailers reported record sales of electric heaters, warm clothes, felt boots and lard, considered a fortifying food against the cold.

The cold didn’t deter some Russians from taking part yesterday in the Orthodox Christian holiday of the Epiphany, an annual ritual that involves jumping into holes cut into the ice on rivers and ponds to cleanse themselves with water deemed holy for the day.

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