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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lawn Melts Into Boiling Swamp, Burning 2

A 9-year-old boy and his father are fighting for their lives in two Moscow hospitals after suffering horrific burns in a boiling swamp created by a burst underground heating pipe.

Residents of the neighborhood near the Timiryazevskaya metro station in northern Moscow, where the accident occurred Sunday, were stunned by the accident and said the city failed to respond promptly to calls about steam spewing from the ground.

Witnesses said Armen Mkrtunyan and his father, Vladimir, 33, were walking toward a grocery store on Ulitsa Dubki when the boy decided to cut across a lawn. Seconds later Armen was sucked into a steaming swamp. His father jumped into the sludge to save the child. Although he managed to pull his son to safety, both suffered life-threatening burns. Doctors said Tuesday that both remain in critical condition.

Workers from the Moscow Rescue Service who arrived at the scene within minutes of getting the call were greeted by a grim sight.

"Oh, the boy looked horrible, his skin was coming off as the rescuers tried to free him from his clothes," said a clerk at the grocery store, who witnessed the accident.

"This boy's chest was a bright red color. He was screaming that he couldn't see anything," said Antonina Vlasova, who also witnessed the accident.

According to a duty officer at the Moscow Rescue Services, the boy suffered serious burns over about 80 percent of his body. The father suffered burns over 40 percent of his body and damage to some internal organs.

Vlasova and employees of the store said steam had started rising from the ground a few hours before the accident, and that the shop made at least one call to alert local authorities. Vlasova and other people at the scene complained that city workers didn't show up to check out the problem until after the accident.

The local prosecutor's office has launched a criminal investigation into the accident, according to Anatoly Gertsen, the city official in charge of the capital's heating system.

Under Moscow's central-heating system, piping hot steam and water runs underground in a web of pipes that link central heating plants with apartments, businesses and other buildings.

Gertsen said the main heating pipes usually are contained in special boxing, and it is unclear why so much hot water escaped so quickly into the ground at the accident scene.

"When the pipes are boxed water remains within the box even if the pipe bursts," Gertsen said. Gertsen said a hole was found in the pipe at the scene, which was excavated following the accident. The section was removed and sent to specialists for analysis, he said. The pipeline was repaired the same day.

Gertsen also said that according to the documentation, the pipes in the area were replaced two years ago. He also said that in May 1997 the pipes successfully passed a regular annual high-pressure test.

He refused to speculate on potential causes of the accidents or on who might be held responsible.

Tuesday afternoon, workers at the accident site were securing metal barriers around what has become a crater 3 meters deep and 5 meters wide.

"Don't come too close. It may still collapse," shouted one worker.

An engineer heading the repair team, who did not want his name used, said the workers had received orders to stop all further work until prosecutors could examine the site.