IMAGE: Russian man plunges into icy waters
Alexander Demianchuk  /  Reuters
Assistants help a man dip into icy water to mark the Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany in the town of Sestroretsk, 19 miles from St. Petersburg, on Thursday.
updated 1/20/2006 11:31:34 AM ET 2006-01-20T16:31:34

An extreme cold spell caused more deaths among Russians stranded on frigid streets Thursday, while thousands of revelers plunged into icy waters for an annual ritual marking a Russian Orthodox holiday.

Moscow shivered through its fourth day of a cold snap, with temperatures dropping to minus 24 degrees overnight — the lowest recorded temperature on Jan. 19 since 1927, said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a Moscow weather official.

Seven people died of exposure in the capital in the past day, Moscow ambulance service chief Igor Elkis said. At least 31 people have died across the western part of the country since the cold spell swept in from Siberia late Monday, but the number is likely to be higher because many areas have not reported such deaths.

In a town outside Moscow, thousands were without heat overnight after a water main broke, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. A similar accident left thousands shivering in Siberia’s Chita region, about 3,000 miles east of Moscow near the Chinese border.

Frigid plunge
The cold snap coincided with Thursday’s Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany, and many defied warnings from doctors and priests by jumping into holes cut into thick ice on rivers and ponds to cleanse themselves.

The ritual imitates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Many took the plunge around midnight Wednesday, with temperatures near their overnight lows.

Jumping into the water in such temperatures “is the most intense feeling,” one man in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg told state-run Channel One television after taking a dip, his eyebrows rimed with frost.

On Wednesday, electricity consumption nationwide hit 146,000 megawatts — a record high since the Soviet collapse 15 years ago, the head of national electricity monopoly RAO Unified Energy Systems, Anatoly Chubais, said in televised comments.

In Moscow, where a construction boom is in full swing and the gray streets of the Soviet era have turned into glitzy thoroughfares festooned with bright lights, electricity consumption reached a record of more than 15,300 megawatts, RAO UES said.

Transportation woes
Traffic was light in the capital’s normally jammed streets because many motorists could not start their cars.

Outside one apartment building, residents hefted car batteries back into their vehicles after taking them home overnight to keep them warm. Others desperately tried, and failed, to jump-start their cars.

IMAGE: Russian women brave cold in Moscow
Iavn Sekretarev  /  AP
Women in Moscow brave the cold, Thursday, where temperatures dropped to minus 24 degrees overnight.
At a nearby bus stop, morning commuters ran in place to fend off the cold.

Many parents kept their children home. At one Moscow school, three children in a class of more than 20 showed up, and at another, a boy was sent home when none of his classmates came.

The mercury was expected to rise toward minus 4 over the weekend in Moscow, Pozdnyakova said.

On Wednesday, Italy, Croatia and Hungary reported decreased supplies of Russian gas from the state-controlled monopoly, OAO Gazprom, which were attributed to domestic demand in Russia. Gazprom said it was adhering to contracts with European customers, but some applications for extra gas had been declined.

European Commission spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny said it was “not a major disruption” and decreases have occurred in previous winters.

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Video: Russia's deep freeze


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