Moscow wheezes under smog as health worries grow

8th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Dozens of flights were delayed and worries 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 sign of shifting.

Drivers put on their headlights in broad daylight to see through the smog while the sun shone as a hazy disc easily viewed by the naked eye with little discomfort.

Up to 2,000 passengers were stranded at Moscow's Domodedovo international airport when major delays hit their flights after they had crossed security and passport control to the departures area, the ITAR-TASS news agency said.

Domodedovo, in the south of Moscow was the airport worst hit by the smog with dozens of departing flights delayed Sunday morning and only a handful of aircraft able to land, its departures information showed.

"Passengers need to be warned that delays are unavoidable," Sergei Izvolsky of state aviation committee Rosavitsia told state television, adding the delays could be anything from 30 minutes to several hours.

Moscow's other international airports, Sheremetyevo to the north and Vnukovo to the east, were also experiencing delays although the impact of the smog appeared to be less severe.

Residents of the Russian capital have rushed to escape Moscow, with travel agents reporting package tours to destinations popular with Russians like Egypt and Montenegro completely sold out for this weekend.

State air pollution monitoring service Mosekomonitoring said that carbon monoxide levels in the Moscow air were now 6.6 times higher than acceptable levels.

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.

Moscow residents and tourists tried to protect themselves from the smog by donning medical masks or even just clutching wet rags to their faces. But health officials have warned that the best precaution was to stay at home.

The wildfires that have killed 52 people were still spreading in central Russia, the emergencies ministry said, as weather forecasters said Russia's worst heatwave in decades would continue in the coming days.

© 2010 AFP

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