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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Father Frost Strikes Hard

MTPolice officers braving the bitter winter wind on Red Square on Wednesday. The weather is expected to warm up for a few days.
Father Frost seems to have returned to his pagan roots this holiday season, freezing dozens of people to death.

New Year's Eve and Orthodox Christmas were marked not only with presents from the cheerful white-haired old man but also with two waves of low temperatures that caused old heating systems to break down and homeless or drunken people to die from hypothermia in the streets -- which is more in line with the legend of the orginal Father Frost, the pagan god Moroz, or Frost, who was believed to hunt for lonely travelers in snowy forests or fields and freeze them to death.

Six people froze to death in Moscow on Orthodox Christmas, when nighttime temperatures fell to minus 31.4 degrees Celsius in parts of Moscow -- the coldest yet this winter, officials said Wednesday. A total of 27 people have frozen to death since New Year's Eve, when the first wave of cold weather swept from the northwest into central Russia. Interfax reported that 239 people have died of hypothermia since the beginning of October.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that it does not have statistics of how many people have died across the country.

Almost 23,000 people were without heat Wednesday after breakdowns in 282 residential and 42 administrative buildings in 20 towns nationwide, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. Emergency officials have dispatched 903 repair workers and 168 vehicles to help out.

Most of the trouble is in the Karelia, Leningrad and Novgorod regions in northwestern Russia, where the cold front entered European Russia, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. Russian television showed icicles on heating pipes and people bundled up in thick coats in frosty apartments.

In the Far East, Sakhalin authorities were struggling with a cleanup after a crippling snowstorm blanketed the island last week, killing at least six, Interfax reported. Rescue workers have pulled 39 people out of snow drifts. It will take another 10 days to clear away the 2 1/2-meter-high piles of snow on the island, Channel One television said.

President Vladimir Putin discussed the cold weather with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on Wednesday after returning from a skiing vacation in the southern Urals. Channel One showed Putin talking on the telephone with Karelia President Sergei Katanandov. He pledged to send federal aid but also highlighted regional responsibility.

"You are not asking for much -- 50 million, eh?" Putin was shown as saying. Fifty million rubles is about $1.6 million.

"I spoke today with the head of the Cabinet, and he said they will consider the issue and help," Putin said. "But overall, your area should have been ready for such temperatures -- it's a northern region after all."

Katanandov replied that a heating breakdown in the town of Muezerskoye was in part caused by holiday celebrations -- electricity was accidentally switched off five minutes before midnight on Dec. 31, as outside temperatures dropped to minus 45 degrees. As a result, water froze in the town's pipes and they burst.

"Clearly, the people were celebrating," Katanandov told Putin. "They relaxed a bit and let this happen."

Putin also spoke by telephone with Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported to Putin that the commanders of the Leningrad and Far East military districts have been instructed to get in touch with local authorities to offer emergency fuel supplies and other assistance.

Halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg in the Novgorod region town of Valdai, 24 apartment blocks and a hospital were without heat after heating pipes broke, leaving more than 3,000 people in the cold. Novgorod's emergency situations department was unable to turn the heating back on by the end of the day Wednesday as it previously promised, Russian media reported. Television showed newborns in the local hospital surrounded with hot water bottles.

Gennady Yeliseyev, deputy director of the federal weather center, said the cold temperatures in Moscow were nothing unusual and still far above the record low of minus 42 degrees registered in 1940. "It's simply that recent winters were rather warm, and we have gotten a bit unused to the cold," Yeliseyev said.

In the 1970s and 1980s, winter temperatures routinely fell to minus 36 degrees in the city, he said.

Temperature fluctuations in and around Moscow during the holidays were caused by a clash of two atmospheric fronts, weather officials said. Temperatures began warming up Wednesday and were expected to go up to minus 8 by the end of the week.

But another northwestern cold front is forecast to reach Moscow by the beginning of next week, bringing the temperature down to minus 17.