Blizzards Hit Schools, Heat, Electricity

APMounted police patrolling around the Kremlin as heavy winds whipped up the snow around the city on Saturday.
The recent blizzards that have closed factories and schools, left thousands without heating and electricity and buried roads under think blankets of snow in some of the country's regions look set to continue into next week, forecasters warned Friday.

Record snowfall and storm-force winds on Thursday and Friday paralyzed the Volga region, the country's worst hit, according to Mark Naishuller, a leading meteorologist at the federal weather bureau.

Authorities in Samara and Tolyatti, where up to 25 centimeters of snow fell Thursday, declared a state of emergency as dozens of roads became impassable, said Anatoly Karlyuk, a spokesman for the Samara regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Snowdrifts that formed on Thursday on the Samara-Ufa highway trapped 200 cars on a 25-kilometer stretch, Karlyuk said. More than 1,000 Emergency Situations officials and police helped clear the road and distributed food and water supplies to the drivers and passengers, he said.

Most schools in Samara canceled classes Thursday and some did on Friday, Karlyuk said.

Hundreds of villages in the Volga region suffered intermittent power cuts through Thursday and Friday as heavy snow brought down power lines, he said.

Tolyatti's main employer, the giant AvtoVAZ car factory, suspended production Thursday as employees had no means to get to their jobs, he said.

AvtoVAZ could not be reached Friday.

Further east, in Ulyanovsk, authorities cut off power to thousands of residents as the weather brought the electrical grid to its knees, said Svetlana Anatolyeva, of the region's Emergency Situations Ministry branch.

A small hospital and school in an Ulyanovsk region village went without power all day Thursday as authorities tried to find the faulty power cable.

"No one remembers where the cable is," Anatolyeva said Friday. "All we know is its somewhere in the woods."

The culprits for the "anomalous" weather, the meteorologist Naishuller said, were cyclones that formed over the North Atlantic and brought warm and windy weather systems from the West into Russia, via Scandinavia.

The blizzards had let up on Sunday, but Naishuller said Friday that the troubles in other regions would continue as the weather front headed eastward.

He said the system that hit was a different one than had battered the Volga region earlier in the week, he said.

As for the week ahead, temperatures are expected to hit a low of about minus 10 degrees Celsius mid-week, with a return of last week's snow not in the forecast.