Dozens of Russians, unduly fond of their national tipple, are drowning daily as they stream to water to escape the record-setting scorching heat, a senior emergencies ministry official said on Wednesday.
Vodka-drinking groups — some with small children — can be seen at lakes and ponds in and around the Russian capital where the current three-week heatwave may set a new all-time record of 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) this weekend.
“Russia’s Emergencies Ministry is very worried by the current situation. In the last day alone, 49 people drowned (in Russia), including two children, Vadim Seryogin, a department head at the ministry, told a news conference.
Forty-nine in a day. By contrast, in the US, a country with double the population, averages about 74 drowning deaths per week. (It would be interesting to learn whether Russia’s already astronomical vehicular death rate has spiked to.)
Some of the stories are especially gruesome, like the 6 children who died in the Sea of Azov while their summer camp counselors were stupefying rather than supervising.
I appreciate that the heat–in the mid-90s F–is very difficult for people to deal with. I split time between Houston and St. Louis, which are beastly in the summertime: forecast highs for Houston are mid-90s through the entire week. But natives are used to it, and more importantly, air conditioning is ubiquitous. In Russia, in contrast, people aren’t used to it, and air conditioning is a rumor: I almost suffocated in a Moscow hotel room in late-August when the temperature was merely in the 80s F. I can imagine that it is nearly intolerable under current conditions.
But even given that, this spate of drownings is dumbfounding. In the US, heat waves in inner city areas (where AC is less common) lead kids to play in the hydrants, and go swimming more frequently. There are more drownings, but the rate and the delta of the rate is nothing by comparison with what is being reported in Russia.
And it the difference can, apparently, be distilled down to one thing: spirits. Which is pretty amazing, because I never considered getting sh*t faced to be all that refreshing.