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Smog grounds Moscow flights

marciadottin, [email protected]

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MOSCOW – A choking smog from raging wildfires shrouded Moscow yesterday, grounding flights, plunging the city’s iconic Red Square into a sea of dirty mist and stinging eyes and throats across the Russian capital.Droves of tourists had to don face masks just to tread the square’s historic cobblestones, straining to photograph the Kremlin’s barely visible spires and the hazy domes of St Basil’s Cathedrals.Airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide were four times higher than average readings – the worst seen to date in Moscow, city health officials reported.“It hurts my eyes,” student Valeriya Kuleva said on a central Moscow street. “I’m wearing a mask but nothing helps.”Dozens of flights were grounded and others were diverted away from the capital’s Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports, as smog brought runway visibility down to 220 yards, airport officials told The Associated Press.All incoming flights to Domodedovo were being offered alternative airports at which to land, a decision left up to individual flight crews, airport spokeswoman Yelena Galanova said.Other flights decided to divert to St Petersburg, 400 miles to the northwest or to Kazan, 500 miles east of Moscow, a Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman told The AP.Sheremetyevo, Moscow’s other main airport, on the opposite side of the city from most of the blazes, also faced some delays but freed up tarmac space to receive some planes.By late afternoon, the situation had eased somewhat, with all airports starting to accept some flights.Visibility in the capital was down to a few dozen yards due to the smog, which carried a strong burning smell and causes coughing. The haze is forecast to hang around for days due to the lack of wind.More than 500 separate blazes were burning nationwide yesterday, mainly across western Russia, amid the country’s most intense heat wave in 130 years.“All high-temperature records have been beaten, never has this country seen anything like this, and we simply have no experience of working in such conditions,” Moscow emergency official Yuri Besedin said yesterday, adding that 31 forest fires and 15 peat-bog fires were burning in the Moscow region alone.At least 52 people have died and 2 000 homes have been destroyed in the blazes. Russian officials have admitted that the 10 000 firefighters battling the blazes aren’t enough. (AP)