Watch CBSN Live

It's Cold, Even By Siberian Standards!

The perils of winter are all too familiar in Russia. In the past week alone, nine people froze to death in Moscow.

But 3,000 miles to the east, in a region known the world over for its cold weather, Siberians are suffering through their harshest winter in decades. And as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports, the problem is compounded by a severe shortage of fuel.

When it comes to coping with the cold, Siberians are experts. But this winter, even they have met their match.

The region hasn't been this frigid for this long in 30 years.

Pipes have burst, gas lines have ruptured, and heating breakdowns - even in schools - have Siberians seeking warmth wherever they can find it, even in the glow of cheap vodka.

But drinking is a temporary and risky solution.

Siberia's many alcoholics often pass out in snow banks and simply don't wake up. Those who do wake up, do so in the frostbite ward of the hospital, minus their fingers and toes.

In some Siberian villages, the temperature has dropped to 50 degrees below zero. The Russian government is doing its best to keep people fed and warm, but it can't do it alone.

So, the American Red Cross has stepped in to help, bringing medicine, money and food to two million Siberians — especially the vulnerable, like some abandoned handicapped children, who can now count on three square meals a day in an orphanage that's clean and warm.

But foreign charity can't solve the main problem, which has its roots in decaying pipelines, coal shortages and corrupt officials.

Fed up, Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at Energy Minister Alexander Gavrin.

"Am I supposed to believe you didn't expect it to get cold this winter," he asked. "Why weren't you prepared?"

Then Putin fired Gavrin.

But a Kremlin Cabinet shuffle 3000 miles away is cold comfort to Galina Kolobova in her unheated Siberian apartment.

"At least it's better than yesterday when it was actually below freezing in here," she said as she showed a visitor her frost covered radiator and then scraped ice off the apartment's walls.

And it's not going to get warmer anytime soon. The forecast indicates more bitter cold weather is on the way to Siberia.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue