Russia slips up on icy weather amid travel chaos

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Russia on Monday battled to come to terms with the havoc sparked by a bout of icy weather which wrecked the travel plans of thousands of air travellers and left half a million without power.

Ironically, the chaos has been caused by a spell of unseasonably warm weather in the country's bitter winter which meant that torrential freezing rain, rather than snow, fell on Saturday which made even walking treacherous.

Moscow's biggest airport, Domodedovo in the south of city, was slowly recovering from a closure of over 12 hours Sunday due to a power outage while the other main city airport, Sheremetyevo, was seeing major delays Monday.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to do "everything you can and mobilise all units to ease the situation in the airports and transport."

The press, which happily reported on the chaos in European countries earlier this month caused by a snowfall that would not have raised eyebrows in Russia, was less than happy with the authorities' response to the crisis.

"The capital and its surroundings turned out to be completely unprepared for the weather," said the mass-circulation Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

Twenty-seven people were wounded in Moscow by trees that fell down due to ice weighing on their branches, the Interfax news agency said, adding that 22 required hospital treatment.

Putin said that 412,000 people were left without light in Moscow and other regions in central Russia although this number had been reduced to 121,000 late Sunday night.

Electricity was partially restored to Domodedovo airport after the power outage and the airport had be able to allow dozens of domestic flights overnight. Officials said the situation could be normalised in the day.

Sheremetyevo, the hub for Russia's flag carrier Aeroflot, was experiencing severe delays. Reports said the problems were caused by a shortage of de-icing agent.

© 2010 AFP

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