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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 January 2006, 12:09 GMT
Dozens die in Russian cold snap
Steam drifts over the Kremlin
Moscow's Red Square was deserted as temperatures plummeted
Some 24 people have died of exposure in Russia as freezing winter temperatures plunged to minus 30C overnight.

Many schools and businesses are shut, electrical billboards turned off, cars were unable to start and trolley buses put out of action by snapped cables.

Energy consumption hit new highs as the Russians - normally inured to extreme cold - struggled to keep warm.

A number of European countries have reported drops in the level of their gas supplies from Russia.

Moscow's First Deputy Mayor, Pyotr Askyono, said on television that temperatures on Thursday night were forecast to fall even lower than they did overnight on Wednesday.

Temperatures on Thursday were the lowest recorded on the date of 19 January since 1927, weather forecasters said.

Orthodox festival

At least two people reportedly died of hypothermia in Moscow on Wednesday night.

Russian policeman outside the Kremlin

A further 12 died in freezing conditions in the Novgorod region, north-west of Moscow, Interfax news agency reports.

In Volgograd, a region south-east of Moscow more accustomed to milder temperatures, some 10 people died of exposure, the Itar-Tass news agency says.

Thursday's cold snap coincided with the Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany.

Many people ignored warnings from doctors and priests to take part in a ritual dip in freezing outdoor pools.

"It's warmer in here than it is for you up there," one man was heard shouting to onlookers in the town of Yekaterinburg, the Associated Press news agency reports.

"Here it's plus four, but it's minus 30 up there."

Commuters waiting at bus stops in the country were seen running on the spot to keep warm.

Energy 'crisis'

Electricity consumption across the country reportedly hit 146,000 megawatts on Wednesday - the highest figure since the collapse of the Soviet Union 15 years ago.

Italy has meanwhile said it has had to tap into its gas reserves to account for a 5% drop in supplies from Russia.

Italian Industry Minister Claudio Scajola has summoned a crisis meeting of energy firms to debate the issue.

Reports say Russian gas flows to parts of Europe have fallen by as much as 20%.

Gazprom has said it is fulfilling its contractual obligations, but is unable to supply excess amounts of gas.

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