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Flight restrictions introduced as deadly wildfires blight Moscow

Video by Olivia SALAZAR WINSPEAR

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-08

Flights have been delayed in and out of the capital Sunday as Muscovites choke under the acrid smoke of Russia's disastrous wildfires. The fires cover 190,400 hectares of land, the government has said, just 3,000 hectares less than the day earlier.

AFP - Dozens of flights were delayed and concerns grew over public health Sunday as Moscow choked in the worst smog in living memory, blown over the Russian capital from spreading wildfires.
  
The city's iconic landmarks like the Kremlin towers and the wedding-cake Stalin-era skyscrapers were completely obscured from a distance as the acrid smoke that has suffocated the capital for days showed no signs of shifting.
  
The wildfires have sparked a major crisis in central Russia, with the authorities rushing to protect strategic sites including the country's main nuclear research facility from the flames.
  
Moscow drivers put on their car headlights in broad daylight to see through the smog while the sun shone as a hazy disc directly visible by the naked eye with little discomfort.
  
Some 2,000 were stranded at Moscow's Domodedovo international airport when major delays hit their flights after they had crossed passport control to the departures area with food running short, state television said.
  
Domodedovo, in the south of Moscow, was the airport worst hit by the smog with dozens of flights delayed Sunday. "Passengers need to be warned that delays are unavoidable," said Sergei Izvolsky of aviation committee Rosavitsia.
  


Residents of Moscow have rushed to escape the smog-bound capital, with travel agents reporting package tours to destinations popular with Russians like Egypt, Montenegro and Turkey completely sold out.
  
"In the last week the demand for tickets from Moscow sold online has gone up by 20 percent," Irina Turina, spokeswoman of the Russian Union of Tour Operators, told Moscow Echo radio.
  
"For this weekend there are no places on aircraft to resort destinations and next weekend very few. The smoke has prompted this desire of Muscovites to leave the city," she said.
  
State air pollution monitoring service Mosekomonitoring said that carbon monoxide levels in the Moscow air were now 2.8 times times higher than acceptable levels. The day earlier they had been 6.6 times worse.
  
Tiny invisible particles from the fires were also present in concentrations 2.2 times higher than the norm, with specialists warning these could prove highly dangerous if they entered the human system.
  
Controversially, Moscow's high-profile Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had until now refused to return to the city from a summer break and handle the crisis, a decision mocked by the press.
  
But his aides said Sunday he had after all decided to return, after interrupting treatment at an undisclosed location for a "sports injury".
  
Moscow residents and tourists tried to protect themselves from the smog by donning medical masks or even just clutching wet rags to their faces. The Russian pharmacists association said there was no shortage of masks but new stocks were being brought in.
  
The wildfires that have killed 52 people were still blazing in central Russia, the emergencies ministry said, as weather forecasters said Russia's worst heatwave in decades would continue with temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius.
  
Some 554 fires were still covering 190,400 hectares of land in Russia, the emergencies ministry said, down just 3,000 hectares from the figure the day earlier.
  
"The situation with the wildfires in Russia remains difficult but a trend of improvement is being recorded," emergencies ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova told ITAR-TASS.
  
There were worries the flames could hit Russia's main nuclear research site in Sarov, a city closed to foreigners, but officials said the situation was under control and soldiers deployed there would be sent elsewhere.

Date created : 2010-08-08

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