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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 19:32 GMT
Russia battles big freeze
Two policemen in Red Square brave the cold
The winter is harsh even by Russian standards
The record low temperatures in Russia over the last few days are continuing to bite as government services struggle to fix breakdowns at heating facilities.

In order to change all the heating systems in [Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains], we will need 20 years

Yekaterinburg mayor Arkady Chernetsky

Some 25,000 people in north-western Russia are still struggling without heating, as temperatures dropped to -45C and old or overused heating systems broke down in the extreme conditions.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said more than 1,000 employees were working on restoring heat to all affected regions, but officials complained about the lack of cash to carry out the major repair work needed.

There are also reports that the Baltic Sea is beginning to freeze over in some places, and Finnish scientists say the ice may cover it entirely for the first time since 1948.

The Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland are almost completely covered in ice, reports say.

"This is going to be a rough winter. Not even the occasional milder spells will necessarily help," says Ari Seina, head of the ice service of the Finnish Institute of Marine Research.

In addition to covering an unusually large area, the ice is also five to 20 centimetres thicker than average.

Some 40 ships have been trapped in the icy Gulf of Finland, near the city of St Petersburg and ice-breakers have been sent to their rescue.

Death toll

In Moscow, three more people died overnight, bringing the death toll from the severe cold to at least 240 since October.

Another 62 were taken to hospital as a result of exposure to the cold, reports say.

Health officials said a further 35 people suffering from frostbite and hypothermia were also receiving hospital treatment.

Most of those who have died or needed medical aid are homeless people who drank alcohol in excess to keep warm.

Air temperatures in Moscow, which normally hover around -10C, dropped to -35C before going up on Thursday.

But Moscow's meteorological bureau has warned the bitter weather may return next week.

In St Petersburg, the physics institute where Nobel Prize winner Zhores Alfyorov works, has been without heat and water for over a week.

Mr Alfyorov said important experiments were at risk of being lost.

  The BBC's Robert Parsons
"Russians struggle to fight off the bitter cold"
See also:

09 Jan 03 | Media reports
09 Jan 03 | Europe
08 Jan 03 | Europe
05 Jan 03 | Europe
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