US disaster team sent to Moscow

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The United States said Monday a US disaster team has arrived in Moscow to help Russia deal with massive forest fires causing havoc in much of the country.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said an Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance team "has had their first meetings with Russian fire experts" about how best to help.

The meetings follow Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's phone call on Friday with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, "where we offered our assistance to ... Russia in dealing with these horrible fires."

Crowley also said the State Department is also studying an embassy request to authorize the departure from Moscow of children and other family members of embassy staff who are suffering from the fire-induced smog in the capital.

"So that's something that we will be evaluating and perhaps make a decision before ... too long," Crowley said.

Russian officials said the daily mortality rate in Moscow has doubled and morgues are overflowing amid an acrid smog caused by the worst heatwave in Russia's thousand-year history.

The acknowledgment, which broke days of official silence on the toll, came after media reports accused authorities of covering up the scale of the disaster that has forced many Muscovities to flee the Russian capital.

The smog from the peat and forest fires burning in the countryside around 100 kilometres (60 miles) outside the city has choked Moscow for days and has been seeping into apartments, offices and even underground into the metro.

Emergency services battled to put out over 170,000 hectares of wildfires in central Russia and the Moscow region, as fires also raged close to a nuclear reprocessing site.

© 2010 AFP

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