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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Blames Contractors for Collapse

After months of lurid accidents in Moscow, from exploding buildings to collapsing streets, city officials held a news conference Thursday to defend their record in maintaining safety and to suggest that guilt lay either with small construction companies or careless victims.

Just one day earlier, a Russian worker who entered a sewer near Volgogradsky Prospekt to conduct repairs was immediately overcome by an accumulation of gasses -- a poisonous mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. He died almost instantly. Days earlier, on Saturday, two Korean citizens had also died in that same sewer, having fallen in accidentally, said Boris Nikolsky, first deputy mayor in charge of city infrastructure.

Nikolsky offered those anecdotes -- but few details about how or why the accidents had happened, or what was being done to solve the problem -- as an illustration of the 467 serious accidents city officials say occurred in Moscow over the last six months.

Some of the accidents included:

...A nine-story building at Shcherbakovskaya Ulitsa that exploded last week, killing seven people. Mayor Yury Luzhkov, in a letter to President Boris Yeltsin, attributed the explosion to a gas leak caused by "the negligence of a 35-year-old resident of the building from Chelyabinsk, Sergei Simonov." But prosecutors are still investigating the matter.

...A bridge under construction on the outer ring road in northern Moscow that collapsed in June, injuring 10 construction workers.

...A 500-square-meter section of Ulitsa Bolshaya Dmitrovka that collapsed in May, swallowing a car and some of a building's facade.

...A boiling sinkhole that opened up on Ulitsa Tukhachevskogo in March, sucking in and killing a 45-year-old woman who had been walking her dog. The hole was created by a burst hot water pipe.

...A similar sinkhole that opened up under a lawn near the Timiryazevskaya metro station, sucking in a nine-year-old boy and his father. The boy later died from burns received.

City officials have come under harsh criticism over the spate of accidents, and they have not taken it lightly.

For example, after the Segodnya newspaper suggested Luzhkov had too quickly accused building resident Simonov of accidentally blowing up his home at Shcherbakovskaya Ulitsa, the mayor's office threatened to sue. Spokesman Sergei Tsoi said Segodnya had "defamed the mayor's honor."

"If you don't praise [the authorities], you are an enemy," Segodnya editor Mikhail Berger responded, in a front-page editorial Thursday. "Bureaucrats from the Moscow city government desire to see nothing but admiration of their boss' s activities [in the media], and this is not just odd, it's harmful to the mayor himself."

On Thursday, Nikolsky stated flatly that most of the accidents this year were caused by incompetence on the part of some of the 2,000 small construction firms operating in Moscow.

Vladimir Resin, the city's chief architect, contrasted what he described as the shoddy work of some of those companies with the high-profile construction of the Manezh Square, an engineering feat "comparable to an open heart surgery" that "went fine because it was performed by the professionals."