News / Europe

Heat Wave, Smog Double Moscow's Daily Death Rate

James Brooke

Russia's summer of heat, drought and fire is starting to take a human toll in Moscow, Europe's most populous city.

Deaths in Moscow have doubled to an average of 700 people a day as the city struggles with a deadly combination of record hot temperatures and poisonous smog from wildfires.

Andre Seltsovky, Moscow's health chief, blamed weeks of heat and smog for the jump in mortality compared to the same time last year.

The average death rate in the city during normal times is between 360-380 people a day, he said. Today, we have around 700.

He added that the city's morgues are filled with 1,300 bodies, close to their capacity. In addition, he said, ambulance trips are up by almost one third, to 10,000 a day. And city officials have ordered 3 million face masks for the population, estimated to be 11 million.

The health department director's comments broke days of official silence on the human toll in the capital. But within hours, Russia's health minister, Tatyana Golikova, demanded an explanation for the statistics.

Acrid smog blanketed Moscow for a sixth straight day Monday, with concentrations of carbon monoxide and other poisonous substances running at roughly double the safe levels. Last weekend, airborne pollutants soared, exceeding safe limits by nearly seven times.

In face of the smog, several embassies in Moscow, including the American, cut their services Monday. Citing 'hazardous levels of air pollution,' the U.S. State Department issued a warning advising people planning to visit Moscow to carefully consider their plans. The warning expires Sept. 5.

Since Friday, smoke from wildfires has delayed or forced the cancellation of 64,000 flights in European Russia, Rosgidromet, the national weather bureau, reported Monday.

On Sunday, Moscow airports experienced a record exodus - 104,000 people flying out of the city. Travel agents report that package tours to destinations popular with Russians like Egypt, Montenegro and Turkey are completely sold out for next weekend.

At the heart of the smog is an infernal archipelago of 550 wildfires across central Russia. NASA estimates that they are pumping as much as 1 million tons of carbon monoxide into the air every day.

Sergei Shoigu, Minister of Emergency Situation, told reporters Monday: "We need a wind, any kind of wind."

Without a wind, he said, the Moscow basin is filling up with automobile exhaust gases and the smoke of about 40 peat fires burning around the capital.

Forecasters say the pollution may decline on Wednesday with a wind from the west. To help Mother Nature, Russia's national weather bureau, asked Moscow's industrial enterprises to cut emissions by about one third through Wednesday afternoon. Health authorities have asked employers to give workers Tuesday off.

On the fire front, there is little room for optimism. The weather bureau expects another 10 days of African-style heat for European Russia - and no significant rain for the rest of August.

On Monday, Prime Minister Putin further cut his forecast of Russia's grain crop, saying it would be at least one third less than last year's bumper crop of 97 million tons. Last week, Mr. Putin shocked world markets by barring further exports of wheat this year from Russia, the world's third largest producer.

Alexander Frolov, head of Russia's weather service, said Monday that historic records and the study of lake deposits indicate that this summer's heat wave could be Russia's worst in 1,000 years.

Speaking at a Moscow a news conference, he said: "This phenomenon is absolutely unique. We have an 'archive' of abnormal weather situations stretching over a 1,000 years. It is possible to say there was nothing similar to this on the territory of Russia during the last 1,000 years in regard to the heat."

Health authorities say that living in Moscow these days is the equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. In response, city officials have opened 123 air-conditioned rooms with filtered air - the pulmonary equivalent of a municipal network of non-smoking rooms.

See additional photos by VOA’s Sergei Moskalev in Moscow:

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs