A 10-year-old girl who went missing after school managed to survive overnight in a mid-winter blizzard in Russia’s far east by clinging to a stray dog for warmth, local media have reported.
Dozens of people joined the search in Uglegorsk, on the island of Sakhalin after Viktoria Zarubina went missing at about 1 p.m. on January 13. The girl’s mother, Tatyana, called the police when she did not return home.
Fears grew for her welfare as a blizzard had dumped snow drifts up to 2 feet deep in the town, located about 170 miles northwest of the island’s administrative center, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Local authorities appealed for volunteers to help with the search as the weather worsened with almost zero visibility.
“We must help our people in Uglegorsk,” Evgenia Tuchkova, head of the Sakhalin branch of the National Center for Missing and Injured Children told Komsolmolskaya Pravda, adding that that the weather conditions made the search difficult. “You can imagine what the situation was like.”
The search party scoured all the yards, houses and alleys in the area, shouting out the missing girl’s name and questioning the residents. After searching through the night, the group got a valuable tip-off from one local who remembered seeing a girl playing with a stray dog near a shelter in the yard of an apartment building.
At around 7.30 a.m., more than 18 hours after she had gone missing, the girl was found sheltering under a low balcony clinging to the animal as both sat on a mattress.
The area, which was only about 500 yards from her house, was not frozen over and the balcony offered protection from the storm. The temperature was also a relatively mild minus 5 degrees Celsius (23F) and she had been appropriately dressed for the cold weather.
Afraid of the storm and as it started to get dark, she huddled next to the dog, reported Komsolmolskaya Pravda. The girl was taken to hospital but was able to return home the same day.
“The fact that the girl remained alive in such weather really is a miracle,” one of the search party volunteers, Anatoly Ivanov, told the publication.
“We were looking all night, nothing was visible at all, our hands in mittens were so cold, it was difficult to straighten our fingers,” he said. “By morning, we started to think she would not be found alive. How can you survive such a nightmare outside?”
“Fortunately, everything turned out to be all right with the girl,” a spokesperson from Uglegorsk police said, according to local news outlet ASTV.