Sheremetyevo Terminal Loses Power as Moscow Sizzles

MTVendors on Monday transferring several cases of beverages, an essential commodity in heat-stricken Moscow.

Baggage carousels ground to a halt and computers flickered off at passport control at Sheremetyevo Airport's Terminal F on Friday evening as power lines, possibly overstrained by heat-related demand, collapsed.

The two-hour outage, which started at 8:40 p.m., stopped baggage conveyor belts and created a backlog at the border, security and customs control zones, forcing employees to manually transfer procedures to Terminal D, the airport said.

"Customs, border, security and baggage control processes were stopped, along with the baggage conveyors, because of a power failure by the Moscow United Power Grid Company," the airport said in a statement.

The outage did not affect flights, but it did lead to a new headache at an airport seemingly beset by problems, including unscheduled road construction work that caused hundreds of passengers to miss flights because of traffic jams earlier this month.

The Moscow United Power Grid Company, which provides electricity to Moscow and the surrounding region, denied responsibility for Friday's outage, saying in a statement that the power had been cut for only a minute and then automatically restored.

No matter who is to blame, it was clear Monday that record-high temperatures over the past few weeks have put a strain on the city's power grid as people plug in electricity-gobbling appliances like air conditioners and fans for respite from the scorching heat.

Power providers across the country are seeing a surge in heat-related demand, and they have offered assurances that they can cope. Nationwide, power consumption over the first two weeks of July was 5 percent higher than the same period last year, with daily consumption hovering around 2.35 million megawatt hours last week, according to the UES System Operator, the electricity market regulator.

In central regions, including Moscow, consumption has grown by 6.1 percent.

Weather forecasters say there is no relief in sight, with the temperature expected to reach 38 degrees Celsius by Sunday.

The heat and an accompanying drought might also cause a repeat of the Moscow smog crisis of summer 2002 if fires in peat bogs surrounding the capital are not brought under control. There were 109 peat fires over the past week, 12 times more than at the same time last year, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday.

In Moscow, the workday at the Moscow City Duma was cut by 90 minutes "in order to guarantee safe working conditions and save money on ventilation and air conditioning," Itar-Tass reported. The shortened workday will be effective until further notice.

Other government agencies are fighting heat with technology. Courts, customs checkpoints, and federal offices like the Federal Fisheries Agency, among others, have placed a total of 30 orders worth 7.3 million rubles ($240,000) for air conditioners since last Monday, according to the Zakupki.gov.ru web site, which handles state orders.

Moscow residents are clearing store shelves of air conditioners and fans.

Since the start of June, sales of air conditioners have skyrocketed tenfold, said Sergei Pavlov, a spokesman for Eldorado, a chain of electronics stores.

The store did not see shortages of air conditioners, but the jump in demand caused an increase in the waiting period for installation from the usual two days to about two weeks, he said.

Stores in Moscow and St. Petersburg have seen shortages of fans, and demand has spread from mid-priced fans to the whole spectrum, including the most expensive models, he said.

Mobile air conditioners, which don't require installation, are especially popular, and sales have jumped tenfold in July compared with last year, said Nadezhda Kiselyova, a spokeswoman for the M.Video electronics chain.

The heat has also affected transportation infrastructure, with the Light Blue Line of the metro undergoing emergency repairs on Saturday when the rail expanded beyond its normal size because of the high temperatures. Announcements warned passengers of 20-minute delays between trains as the metro ran a single train back and forth on a single track while repairing the other track.

In St. Petersburg, tram service was briefly suspended as workers manually wiped down the rails to remove melted resin, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.

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