Monday, August 29, 2016


Russia

Russian Motorists Trapped In Snowstorm Finally Rescued, After 16 Hours, One Death, And Many Cases Of Frostbite

Anger is mounting in Russia after more than 80 people whose cars were stranded on a snowbound highway in Orenburg waited 16 hours to be rescued, resulting in one death and numerous cases of frostbite.
Anger is mounting in Russia after more than 80 people whose cars were stranded on a snowbound highway in Orenburg waited 16 hours to be rescued, resulting in one death and numerous cases of frostbite.
By Valentin Baryshnikov and Claire Bigg

Pavel Gusev, 25, is still reeling from a brush with death after he and his pregnant wife were stranded on a highway by a heavy snowstorm.

He is also very angry.
 
He and his wife, who is in her ninth month of pregnancy, were among more than 80 people whose vehicles were buried in a snowdrift on a highway in Russia's Urals region of Orenburg on January 2.
 
Despite repeatedly calling emergency services for help, they were not rescued until the next day, almost 16 hours later.
 
By that time, one man had frozen to death, an elderly woman had suffered a heart attack, and 12 others developed severe frostbite.

WATCH: This video (in Russian) features a frostbite victim:

"Some of the operators, young women, were awful," Gusev told RFE/RL. "They answered rudely that we should have stayed home, that we had no business driving in this weather, that this was our own fault."
 
A woman traveling back from a maternity ward with her newborn baby was reportedly among those stranded in their vehicles.
 
Gusev says that the highway was not closed. He denied media reports that said local emergency services had issued a warning not to use that road.
 
He has filed a complaint to prosecutors, who have promised to look into the incident.
 
He has also recorded a video appeal to President Vladimir Putin in which he accuses the Kremlin of asserting Russia’s influence abroad while failing to save its own citizens:


 
"Where is our special equipment?" Gusev asks in the clip. "Are there no vehicles in Russia that can easily break through snowdrifts and rescue people? No one said anything about cars. They are just pieces of metal. Nobody needed them at that time. We were saving our lives and children. But we were just left to die there for a whole day."

The video has been viewed more than 425,000 times since being posted on January 4.

Other accounts by survivors have been widely circulated on social networks, too, sparking outrage and dismay.

Stranded travelers frequently phoned each other from neighboring vehicles to make sure they stayed awake and didn't freeze to death.Stranded travelers frequently phoned each other from neighboring vehicles to make sure they stayed awake and didn't freeze to death.
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Stranded travelers frequently phoned each other from neighboring vehicles to make sure they stayed awake and didn't freeze to death.
Stranded travelers frequently phoned each other from neighboring vehicles to make sure they stayed awake and didn't freeze to death.

"We called, and called, and called, and called," wrote one survivor, Ayna Kereytova. "In response they promised, and promised, and promised, and promised -- they told us, ‘Wait 20 minutes, wait 40 minutes, wait another 40 minutes.’And so we sat there for 16 hours -- 16 endless, terrifying hours."
 
Gusev says people shared cars, huddling together as vehicles ran out of fuel one after the other.
 
He wrapped up his wife in seat covers and placed the windshield sun shade on her body. But the cold became so unbearable they had to seek refuge in another, better insulated car.

He says the stranded travelers frequently phoned each other from neighboring vehicles to make sure they stayed awake and didn't freeze to death.
 
"It was terrifying. We didn't know what to do. We were so desperate," he says. "I felt like death was breathing down my beck, standing next to me and getting closer every second. Each second felt like an eternity."

They took some of their clothes off, their underwear, and burned them. They burned their parking tickets, their insurance documents, all their papers, anything that burned. They ripped the upholstery from the seats and burned everything they could to keep warm."

According to Gusev, temperatures dropped so low that many resorted to burning their belongings and even parts of their cars.
 
"They took some of their clothes off, their underwear, and burned them," he says. "They burned their parking tickets, their insurance documents, all their papers, anything that burned. They ripped the upholstery from the seats and burned everything they could to keep warm."
 
When rescue finally came, the stranded motorists were stunned to see that their rescuers weren't actually from the emergency services.
 
"An old tractor with a blade and a truck came," he says. "There were several officers from the police patrol service in the truck and a traffic police officer at the wheel. There was one rescuer from the emergency services. I don't know how he got there."
 
Regional authorities insist they sent out rescue teams as soon as the first calls came in.
 
According to officials, 157 rescuers were deployed along with 55 equipment units belonging to the Emergencies Ministry, and several warming centers were set up along the snowbound highway.

Survivors and their relatives, however, angrily reject these claims.
 
"No help was provided. These are lies and slander," Ksenia Zinnurova, the widow of the man who froze to death, told RFE/RL.
 
Her husband, 31-year-old Eduard Zinnurov, appears to have left his vehicle with a friend to seek help. He reportedly tripped in the snow and, due to the heavy storm, reportedly lost sight of both his companion and the line of vehicles. 
 
His body was found on January 4, about 20 meters from the highway.


Claire Bigg

Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


 

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