A persistent spell of extreme cold kept Russia in thrall on Thursday, causing more deaths among people stranded on frigid streets but failing to freeze the spirits of thousands who plunged into ice water for an annual ritual marking a Russian Orthodox Christian holiday.
In Moscow, shivering through its fourth day of a cold snap, temperatures dropped to minus 31 degrees Celsius (minus 24 F) overnight, the lowest recorded on Jan. 19 since 1927, said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a Moscow weather forecasting service official. Seven people died of exposure in the capital over the previous 24 hours, Moscow ambulance service chief Igor Elkis said, nearly double the four deaths recorded during the first two nights of the cold spell that swept into the capital late Monday from Siberia.
In a town outside Moscow, dozens of homes and thousands of people were without heat overnight after a main hot-water pipe broke, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. A similar accident left thousands shivering in Siberia's Chita region, near the Chinese border 4,700 kilometers (3,000 miles) east of Moscow.
Amid pain, inconvenience and the frustration of cars that would not start and toes numbed waiting for buses in the pre-dawn dark, many Russians shrugged off the cold that is a trademark of their vast northern nation.
The cold snap coincided with Thursday's Russian Orthodox holiday of the Epiphany, and many defied warnings from doctors and priests, keeping up an annual ritual by jumping into holes cut into thick ice on rivers and ponds to cleanse themselves with water deemed holy for the day.
"Minus 30 is the most intense feeling," one man in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg told Channel one after taking a dip, his eyebrows rimed with frost. "It's warmer in here than it is for you up there," another man, his head poking out of steaming water, told a television crew on the shore. "Here it's plus 4, but it's minus 30 up there."
The ritual imitates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. Many took the plunge around midnight Wednesday, with temperatures near their overnight lows. Friday was expected to bring slightly warmer temperatures, but it would feel colder because of a biting east wind, and the mercury was expected to rise toward minus 20 (minus 4) over the weekend, Pozdnyakova of the Moscow weather service said. State-run Channel One television, however, warned that Moscow temperatures could drop to minus 42 C (minus 43 F), a low last recorded in 1940, reports the AP. N.U.