A bitter cold spell in Russia has claimed 123 lives in the past 10 days, an official says, with the unseasonably early freeze testing authorities in a country used to notoriously tough winters.
Temperatures have plunged to around minus 30 degrees Celsius in the Moscow region and minus 60 degrees in Eastern Siberia, as part of a winter being described by local media as the coldest in 70 years.
"Since the start of the cold, 123 people have died of exposure and frostbite," a medical source was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
A man walks in a snow-covered park in Russia's southern city of Stavropol. Russia is enduring an abnormally cold winter, the most severe in more than 70 years, according to local media. Photo: Reuters
In the past 24 hours, 201 people had to be hospitalised for treatment for hypothermia and frostbite, including 14 children, the source added.
Since the start of the cold snap, 1745 people were affected, and more than 800 had to be hospitalised, the source said.
State television reports on Tuesday focused on a village in Tyva, one of Russia's poorest regions in southern Siberia, where temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius were coupled with an accident at the local heat station which left some 3000 residents stranded in the cold.
A dog runs past a Soviet-era tank, with the air temperature at about minus 8 degrees Celsius, in a park of Russia's southern city of Stavropol on Christmas Eve. Photo: Reuters
"There is nothing; not even water. We have to melt snow and the temperature at home is below zero," one bundled-up resident told Vesti-24 channel.
Some residents, including children, have been lifted by helicopter to the regional centre of Kyzyl, the report said.
Temperatures have been about 12 degrees Celsius lower than seasonal norms in Russia, where the coldest weather usually does not arrive until January or February.
In the Moscow region, Monday became an all-time record for the amount of electricity consumed by residents, Russia's power operator said on Tuesday, blaming unusually cold temperatures.
But Russia's weather service is predicting a drastic temperature hike in the European parts of Russia later this week, with 0 degrees Celsius expected in Moscow.
The emergency ministry warned however that the warming will be accompanied by strong winds and freezing rain that will likely damage communications and slow down traffic.
In neighbouring Ukraine last week, the cold claimed 83 lives, new data showed.
On Tuesday, the health ministry declared that the numbers of victims would now be made available only once a week.