Power outage closes main Moscow airport
Moscow's main airport closed to international traffic Sunday as unseasonably warm weather produced hail storms that wreaked havoc with the city's traffic and left shoppers navigating streets of ice.
The heavy sleet downed transmission lines across central Russia and ground Moscow's traffic -- notorious at the best of times -- to a virtual halt.
Domodedovo International Airport, which handles a daily average of more than 55,000 travellers, reported a total power outage at around 8:00 am (0700 GMT).
The airport only managed to handle about a dozen local flights in the course of the day, with about 16,000 people left stranded after the cancellation of more than 100 flights.
The city's second-largest airport Sheremetyevo remained open but also experienced hours-long delays on some international routes. It received 10 flights from Domodedovo before shutting to the extra traffic because of the weather, state television said.
Temperatures in Russia's capital hovered around the freezing point throughout the weekend, producing unseasonable rain showers that turned the city into what one television station described as a "concrete skating rink".
The warm front left some residents putting mattresses on their cars to save them from the massive icicles dropping from the city's buildings. Other were seen holding on to the walls of buildings as they carefully navigated the streets.
Moscow officials advised the city's 10-million-plus inhabitants to stay at home, with a mayor's office spokesman telling Interfax news agency that people should not venture outside "unless there was an extreme emergency".
The freezing rain also damaged power supply lines used by the city's trams and trolley buses, with officials ordering 96 extra buses out onto the streets to cover the affected routes.
"I wanted to leave the car at home and take the trolley, but those are not moving either," one man told NTV television while digging his car out from under the snow.
Further problems were also reported on Moscow's suburban train routes. A traffic spokesman told Interfax that there were delays throughout the region "affecting almost all the destination points".
The deputy head of Moscow's regional government told state television that the power outages had affected 455 settlements around the city and other parts of central Russia, with 197,000 people left without electricity by midday.
Moscow's December temperatures average at around minus five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the Pogoda.ru website, with daily lows recorded at around minus eight degrees Celsius.
© 2010 AFP