Authorities struggle to clear record snowfall in Moscow

A woman walks along a street after a heavy snowfall, with the Moscow International Business Center also known as “Moskva-City” seen in the background, in Moscow, on Monday. — Reuters

MOSCOW — Moscow authorities battled to clear streets and told children they could skip school, and scores of flights were delayed as the city was blanketed by its heaviest snowfall in 100 years.

The city hall said that 44 centimeters (17 inches) of snow had fallen between Saturday and Monday morning, or 20 percent more than the average for the whole month.

Up to 20 centimeters more was expected to fall on Monday with temperatures falling to minus 12 degrees centigrade (10 degrees Fahrenheit), officials warned.

“This is the first time in 100 years there’s been such a quantity of snow,” said deputy mayor Pyotr Biryukov, quoted by Interfax news agency.

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency dubbed the conditions a “snowy apocalypse.”

“In the first five days of February the monthly average (snowfall) was reached,” Nadezhda Tochenova, the deputy head of Russia’s Hydrometcentre weather research center said. “That’s an anomaly of course.”

A depth of snow of 55 centimeters was measured at one city weather station, Tochenova said, while denying reports that the snowfall was an all-time record.

Early Monday morning, the city announced that children need not come to school — although they would stay open.

“Due to the bad weather, we have announced that attending lessons in Moscow schools is optional,” city hall’s website said.

Usually schools in Russia close only when temperatures fall extremely low.

The emergency services also urged drivers to use public transport unless there was “extreme need” due to the risk of snowdrifts and black ice.

Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on Sunday that the sheer weight of snow had toppled 2,000 trees, and the city authorities said more than 100 of those fell on cars.

“One person died from a falling tree that hit an electric power line,” Sobyanin said on his VKontakte social media page.

The city sent its army of shovel-wielding snow clearers and hi-tech snow ploughs out in force, clearing 1.2 million cubic meters of snow in the last 24 hours, Biryukov said. The snow is taken to special snow melting stations where it is turned into water.

On Monday morning, more than 100 flights were delayed at Moscow’s airports, Interfax reported.

In a city well accustomed to wintry weather, the heavy snowfall did not affect central heating or power supplies and public transport was largely running. — AFP