Friday, August 6, 2010

Moscow embassies start evacuating women, children, radioactive smoke cloud threat

The Canadian and Polish embassies have started evacuating non-essential personnel from Moscow - including children, pregnant women and those with breathing problems - as thick smoke smothers the city, according to diplomatic sources. Embassies have been partly spurred into action as fires are now breaking out in the Bryansk region that was affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which threatens to lift radioactive material into the air.

Neither embassy answered calls nor confirmed the reports.

After a brief respite on Thursday, the winds changed last night and have blanketed the city in heavy smoke again. The government has recommended that anyone going outside wear a mask and parents have been told to keep their children indoors.

Russia’s Surgeon General advised those who can to leave the city. According to some reports, the air quality is so bad that walking outside without a mask is the equivalent of smoking two packets of cigarettes a day. "Air quality has been deteriorating since Thursday evening due to a southeastern movement of the air masses, and conditions unfavourable for atmospheric dispersion," the Moscow Nature Utilization and Environmental Protection Department told Interfax.

According to other reports, the level of oxygen in the air has fallen significantly due to the fires and everyone is complaining of a burning sensation in the eyes. A campfire smell is everywhere in the city.

And the situation could get worse after fires broke out in Bryansk on the Ukrainian border, which bore the brunt of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Sergei Shoigu, head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS), warned in a press conference Friday that if fires spread in the region, they could lift radioactive contamination that exists in the soil into the air and contaminate other regions. Bryansk is some 350 km to the southwest of Moscow and the capital could be threatened by deadly radioactive cloud if the fires are not brought under control.

Similarly some 500 servicemen are working to extinguish wildfires near the city of Sarov near Moscow, where a nuclear research center is located, a spokesman for Russia's Railway Troops said on Friday.

"The main goal the railway servicemen are achieving now is putting up fire-breaks to prevent homes and the nuclear center from catching fire," Col. Sergei Dorozhkin said.

MChS admits that fires are burning out of control, but claims it has extinguished more fires than have started in the last day. Still, clearly the situation is far from being under control.

Currently, there are 831 wildfires registered in Russia, including 42 peat bog fires, which are particularly hard to put out as they burn underground, but produce copious amounts of smoke. MChS reports that some 248 fires have broken out in the last 24 hours, but 273 have been put out. In all there are some 80 major fires ablaze in the country.

The international community has come to Russia's aid and fire-fighters from six countries, including Poland and Germany, are now battling the blazes.

The smoke has also started to affect flights, with departures disrupted at the Vnukovo and Domodedovo airports in Moscow where visibility is down to between 300 and 350 metres. Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow’s main international airport, is still operating normally, but there too visibility is deteriorating and is down to 350 metres. One plane, an An-24, crashed earlier this week due to the poor visibility.

Nor is there any respite to the scorching temperatures, which are expected to reach between 37°C and 39°C in the city – setting yet another record high – today and up to 40°C in the regions.

The Russian weather service says that even if the fires are extinguished, the smoke cloud is now so large it could take until mid-September to disburse, depending on how much rain the autumn brings.

August 6, 2010



  1. Wild, weird, and horrifying.

    1. Some places (Saskatchewan, but more significantly China and Pakistan) are under water.

    2. British Columbia, California, and Russia are burning — B.C. will spend about twice the amount it budgeted for forest fires this year ("at least" twice).

    3. Chernobyl is coming back to bite us again. I remember being in the WW radio newsroom when it happened; I knew it would have loooooong-term implications.

    Another "fun" day in the world.

  2. Wow most of the information hasn't made it here yet. I had forgot about the radioactive areas that caught fire.

  3. I have read some of the other news reports. Very serious with widespread effects.

  4. It's all the news over here. I'm so sorry for it.

  5. They are having a rough time.

    Death rate is up sharply in Moscow from heat and smoke. The usual suspects - old people, small kids and respiratory problems. Cold they know about. Heat is new. Summer temps are at least 10C to 15C higher than normal.


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