Fierce Wind Lashes Moscow, Leaving 12 Dead

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MOSCOW — A fierce windstorm caused by an extreme cold front killed 12 people in Moscow on Monday.

Billboards creaked over on their steel poles, trees crashed to the ground and roof tiles blew about like scraps of newspaper as gusts of at least 49 miles per hour lashed the city.

The storm brought the worst spring wind to Moscow since 1998, when gusts killed nine people in a similar burst of natural fury.

Falling trees and construction materials caused the deaths, an official in the Moscow city health department told Interfax. More than 50 people sought medical help.

Eleven of the deaths were in the city limits; just outside them, a falling tree killed an 11-year-old girl.

The wind toppled a construction crane, knocked down streetlights on a central road and blocked an aboveground Metro line with fallen trees.

Strong wind is an occasional, lethal rite of spring in Moscow, brought by extreme temperature gradients on the Eurasian plain during changes in season.

One turbulent border zone of the cold front moved over the city for only about 20 minutes on Monday afternoon, causing most of the destruction.

The authorities provided warning to residents via messages sent to cellphones. Nonetheless, some pedestrians were caught outside, running in panic for whatever shelter could be found as shorn tree limbs blew around on the streets.

The chief meteorologist of Russia, Roman Vilfand, warned that similar bursts of strong wind might continue for a day or so, as the cold front had a zigzagging leading edge, or area of sharp temperature difference.

“As the cold front moving over Moscow is not a straight line, we expect winds and precipitation in the evening and night,” Mr. Vilfand told Interfax. Meteorologists were still gathering data on the wind Monday night, he said.

The strongest confirmed wind velocity was 49 m.p.h., he said, but an unconfirmed report from an instrument at the Vnukovo airport registered a gust of 64 m.p.h.

Moscow, which sits on swampy flatland, faces several other natural dangers besides strong spring wind. Icicles falling from roof eaves kill several people most winters. In 2010, turf fires smoldering in dry swamps smothered the city for weeks, inflicting the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day on everyone.