Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Utility Fire Blacks Out Neighborhood

A sudden fire caused by a short circuit in underground electricity lines in southern Moscow's Chertanovo district left 18,000 residents without light, water and telephones Thursday.

The fire started at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday when a water pipe broke in the underground tunnel where the high-voltage electricity wires and telephone cables also are located, said Yury Abramov, head of the North Chertanovo administration.

In addition to seven large apartment buildings, a polyclinic and four kindergartens were affected by the accident, he said.

No one was injured, but 34 people got stuck in elevators when the electricity went off and many had to wait hours until they were freed, said Vadim Likhachyov, the head of a rescue crew that checked 202 elevators during the night.

On Thursday afternoon, smoke was still coming out of a traffic tunnel near the underground utility tunnels. Fire fighters quickly extinguished the flames Wednesday night, but residents said heavy black smoke smelling of chemicals could be seen for many hours.

Crews worked through the night to pump water out of the burst pipe. In all, 2 kilometers of underground cables were burned, Abramov said.

Pensioner Margarita Nikolayeva stopped to check out the site of the fire while on her way to a local cafeteria where she was hoping to fill her two thermoses with hot water.

"Nothing works at all. We live in dead houses," she said. "Refrigerators are a melted mess ... toilets stink. My men went to work unshaven."

Nikolayeva's elderly mother lives on the 16th floor in a building next to hers and Nikolayeva said she had to make several trips up and down the stairs to calm her and bring her some water.

Residents of the district lined up to make calls from four blue phone booths attached to a mobile telephone station. About 8,000 phones were down in Chertanovo, the Moscow telephone company said.

Abramov promised the repairs would be done quickly. Cold water and electricity were to be turned on during the night and hot water should return to the apartments by 7 a.m. Friday, he said.

"All the consequences of the accident will be cleared up by Monday, including the broken telephones, which will be fixed," he said.

Ambulances, fire and wrecker trucks, plus seven trucks carrying drinking water were parked all around the area above the tunnel Thursday. Portable toilets were set up. Rescue and repair operations have been complicated by the district's confusing layout, rescue crew chief Likhachyov said. The seven enormous apartment buildings are in irregular shapes and are marked by unusual three-digit building numbers.

An employee of the Chertanovo district administration proudly called this part of the district "Little Tokyo," explaining that the architect was inspired by the style of the Japanese capital's suburbs.