Image: Passengers rest on a floor of Shremetyevo international airport
Misha Japaridze  /  AP
Passengers rest on a floor of Shremetyevo international airport on Tuesday. Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered prosecutors to investigate a logjam at Moscow airports that has stranded thousands of passengers.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/28/2010 2:47:16 PM ET 2010-12-28T19:47:16

Thousands of would-be holiday travelers were stranded at Moscow airports on Tuesday after icy rain and blackouts disrupted traffic for a third straight day.

Exasperated passengers struggled with a lack of information, food shortages and lost baggage, while the chaos prompted prosecutors to launch a probe on Tuesday into the mass delays at the city's two main air hubs.

The Kremlin said that Dmitry Medvedev ordered a check of whether the transport law was being met and of the services offered to the stranded passengers.

Only 150 flights took off overnight at Russia's largest airport, Domodedovo, which typically runs some 700 flights per day. Freezing rain snapped power lines there, leaving the airport in the dark for more than 10 hours during the weekend.

Flight boards were almost fully lit in red, warning of delays and cancellations as passengers slept on baggage conveyor belts and floors of the departure hall.

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It would take another two to three days to normalize transport at Domodedovo, the head of Russia's aviation agency Alexander Neradko said in televised comments, adding that priority was being given to passengers stuck since Sunday.

Shortages of de-icing fluid at the Russian capital's second airport, Sheremetyevo, also grounded about half its flights.

Other Moscow airports have also seen traffic severely cut after freezing rain coated the city in a thick sheet of ice, and health officials warned citizens from venturing out onto the ice-slick streets.

The Russian Tourism Association said some 20,000 passengers have had their flights delayed, though airport authorities said the number is in the low thousands.

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Price hikes
Exasperated passengers told the Ekho Moskvye radio station that amid shortages, restaurants had hiked up prices on food and drink, with bottles of water selling for up to 500 roubles ($16).

Passengers still camped on the floor as they awaited information on their flights and scrambled for lost baggage.

As frustration boiled over, one group of angry travelers stormed the passport control area at Domodedovo on Monday. Riot police have since been dispatched to keep the peace at the struggling transport hubs.

"People are desperate. Fights have broken out ... It feels like there is no air in here," one stranded woman told Vesti 24 television.

RIA Novosti reported that some passengers had to bribe airport officials to register them for flights or get their luggage. Passengers blamed the country's largest airline, Aeroflot, for countless delays.

"Staffers are afraid to show up at work as there have been attacks by passengers," Aeroflot spokeswoman Irina Donnenberg said in televised remarks.

Heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures are typical for Moscow's airports but the weekend saw a downpour of rare freezing rain that engulfed the city in a heavy layer of ice, cracking trees and downing power lines.

Domodedovo, the largest of Moscow's three airports, served nearly 19 million passengers last year, while Sheremetyevo handled almost 15 million.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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