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Muscovites Warned Not to Go Outside After Drinking : Russia: Freezing weather prompts official injunction. Cold is blamed for 18 deaths in the capital in a week.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With deaths mounting from a cold spell extreme even for Moscow, health authorities on Saturday issued a Russian version of the injunction not to drink and drive.

“Don’t drink and go outside,” they told Muscovites.

From Friday morning to Saturday morning, four people froze to death on the Russian capital’s streets, Moscow’s Main Medical Directorate reported. Eighteen have died in the cold in the past week.

Nearly 100 people needed medical help for frostbite last week, and about half of those cases ended in amputation, the directorate said.

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Its chief, Anatoly Solovyov, sent an urgent appeal to the city’s 10 million residents:

“Don’t abuse alcohol!” Solovyov said through the Interfax news agency. “It’s a simple truth--to drink is bad for your health, and in the current weather conditions it could end tragically. If you have nonetheless imbibed alcoholic beverages, don’t leave warm buildings!”

Since the beginning of the month, Moscow and much of the European part of Russia have been undergoing the same biting weather that has visited the Eastern Seaboard of the United States--but with no letup. Nighttime temperatures have hovered near 20 degrees below zero, and daytime highs have been about 5 below. Friday night was the winter’s coldest so far, hitting nearly 40 below.

Many Russians consider this ideal weather--deep frost combined with sunny skies that bring out the sparkle in snow. Winter is Russia’s signature season, time for skiing, skating, strolling in the snow and then warming up with a toss of vodka near a huge Russian stove or in a steamy sauna.

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But the current freeze oversteps the bounds of enjoyment, to the point that Russian media are already trying to recall the last time it was so cold for so long. Many refer to a spell of 40-below temperatures in 1900.

In his appeal, Solovyov also begged Muscovites to be “merciful” to the intoxicated, helping them rather than just passing by.

When it is this cold, he said, it takes only 20 or 30 minutes for fingers, cheeks and ears to freeze. He pointed out that children left outside for long periods are especially at risk.

The daily Segodnya newspaper said that last year, 454 people died of the winter cold in Moscow. In parts of northern Russia where fuel is in short supply this year, the numbers may be even more frightening.

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Meteorologists predict that the Russian deep freeze will continue through Monday before temperatures rise to about zero degrees.


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