Russia's brutal early winter claims 123 lives

A bitter cold spell in Russia has claimed 123 lives in the past 10 days, an official said Tuesday, with the unseasonably early freeze testing authorities in a country used to notoriously tough winters.

Temperatures have plunged to up to minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 34 degrees Farenheit) in the Moscow region and up to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 51 degrees Farenheit) in Eastern Siberia.

"Since the start of the cold, 123 people have died of exposure and frostbite," a medical source was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

In the past 24 hours, 201 people had to be hospitalised to be treated for hypothermia and frostbite, including 14 children, the source added.

Since the start of the cold snap, 1,745 people were affected, and over 800 had to be hospitalised, the source said.

State television reports Tuesday focused on a village in Tyva, one of Russia's poorest regions in southern Siberia, where temperatures of minus 40 degrees Celsius were coupled with an accident at the local heat station which left some 3,000 residents stranded in the cold.

"There is nothing, not even water, we have to melt snow, and the temperature at home is below zero," one bundled-up resident told Vesti-24 channel.

Some residents, including children, have been lifted by helicopter to the regional centre of Kyzyl, the report said.

Temperatures have been about 12 degrees Celsius lower than seasonal norms in Russia, where the coldest weather usually does not arrive until January or February.

In the Moscow region, Monday became an all-time record for the amount of electricity consumed by residents, Russia's power operator said on Tuesday, blaming unusually cold temperatures.

But Russia's weather service is predicting a drastic temperature hike in the European parts of Russia later this week, with 0 degrees Celsius expected in Moscow.

The emergency ministry warned however that the warming will be accompanied by strong winds and freezing rain that will likely damage communications and slow down traffic.

In neighbouring Ukraine last week, the cold claimed 83 people new data showed.

On Tuesday the health ministry declared that the numbers of victims will now be made available only once a week.

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