Freezing conditions which led to dozens suffering from exposure leaves motorists wondering where Russia's snowploughs have gone
The rescue mission in Orenburg Photo: EuroPics[CEN]
By Roland Oliphant, Moscow
7:36PM GMT 07 Jan 2016
Survivors of a freezing 16 hour traffic jam that left at least one man dead have complained to Vladimir Putin after they were left to fend for themselves for nearly a day.
More than 80 people had to be evacuated from a 25-mile traffic jam that formed after an unexpected blizzard closed the highway between Orenburg and Orsk, near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, on the night of January 2.
Policeman Daniil Maksudov with his wife. Daniel used his own coat to warm victims of the freeze, and suffered frostbite as a result. Photo: EuroPics[CEN]
The Orenburg region branch of Russia’s emergency situations ministry has said it alerted and dispatched “all forces and means” to the scene as soon as drivers began to dial 112 - the Russian equivalent of 999 - after 8 PM on Saturday evening.
But survivors have angrily disputed that account, telling Russia media that they were effectively left to fend for themselves for 16 hours, as petrol ran low and travellers took to burning their belongings to keep warm.
“It was a real horror movie. No one would wish to go through that,” said Pavel Gusev, an Orenburg local who said he became trapped in the traffic jam at 9 PM on January 2 and subsequently posted an angry appeal to Mr Putin on the Internet.
Vehicles trapped under deep snow in Orenburg Photo: EuroPics[CEN]
“For a day, no one came for us. There were 30 of us in our cars, keeping warm however we could,” he said in the video message.
One survivor said the column of vehicles briefly began to move after a tractor arrived to clear the road late on Saturday night, but traffic ground to halt again after just 200 yards.
“After that we didn’t see the tractor again. People who ran out of petrol were transferred to cars that still had some. In one car they burned everything - the vehicle’s upholstery, their personal belongings - to keep warm,” another witness told Russia’s Rain television channel.
It was not until midday on Sunday that a rescue team finally arrived and the survivors were evacuated.
In the meantime at least one man had died and 12 others suffered severe frostbite.
Investigators have said they believe the dead driver, whose body was found by the roadside by rescue workers, left his vehicle to find a warmer car but became disorientated because of poor visibility and froze to death.
Addressing the Russian president directly, Mr Gusev requested help for survivors with severe frostbite and demanded to know how such a disaster could happen in a country so accustomed to the cold.
“Mr Putin, please look into this, and into the state of our emergency services,” he said. “How can it be that in Russia there is no equipment that can easily cut through snow drifts and save people?”
The rescue mission and trapped cars in Orenburg Photo: EuroPics[CEN]
While Russian motorists are accustomed to taking precautions when driving in winter, many of the drivers trapped on the highway between Orenburg and Orsk appear to have been caught out by rapidly changing weather on the steppe.
“I don’t deny we’re responsible for travelling in such weather. But before I left I looked at the forecast. In Orenburg it was clear, and when we left the city it was clear,” another witness told Russia’s Rain television channel. She added that traffic police had made no attempt to stop or warn motorists of deteriorating conditions.