Offices close as smoke chokes Moscow
Dense clouds of acrid smoke from peat and forest fires choked Russia’s capital on Friday, seeping into homes and offices, forcing planes to divert and obliging residents to wear surgical masks on their faces.
Air pollution surged to five times normal levels in the city of 10.5 million, the highest sustained contamination since Russia’s worst heatwave in over a century began a month ago.
Officials urged Muscovites to not venture outdoors because of the dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and fine particles in the air. Weather forecasts said the smoke, which has reached even underground metro stations, would stay until Monday.
Looking across Red Square on Friday, dense smoke shrouded the famous onion domes of St Basil’s cathedral and the Kremlin spires. NASA satellite images showed a 3,000 km-long smoke cloud covering large swathes of European Russia.
The deadliest wildfires in nearly four decades have killed at least 52 people and left thousands homeless as entire villages of wooden homes burned down, official figures say.
However the true toll from the smoke and heatwave may be much higher. Interfax news agency quoted an “informed source” on Friday saying death rates in Moscow surged nearly 30 per cent in July because of the “disastrous heat and smoke cloud”.
--Reuters news Agency
The Kremlin wall is seen through heavy smog on Aug. 6, 2010. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin
A woman wears a mask to protect herself from the smell of heavy smog, caused by peat fires in nearby forests, as she walks in central Moscow, August 6, 2010. REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky