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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Vanishes in a Blanket of Smog

MTHeavy smog engulfing cars on Leningradsky Prospekt on Thursday as the city saw its worst haze of the summer. Weather forecasters said they expected relief only next week.
Airports rerouted flights and Muscovites were asked to stay indoors Thursday as the worst smog yet this summer settled on the city.

Visibility dropped to 100 meters in parts of the capital, in a haze fueled by dry weather and smoke from raging fires in the surrounding region.

"I couldn't see a damn thing on my morning walk," said Vladimir, 21, who declined to give his last name. "I nearly lost my dog."

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov ordered an investigation into the state of the city's environment and said a criminal case might be opened when results are reported Monday.

Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko said children should be kept indoors and pregnant women and people with heart and respiratory problems should take precautions until the smog subsides. Weather forecasters predicted no relief until next week.

"We are concerned about children and pregnant women as they are the most sensitive to this," Onishchenko said on NTV television. "People who smoke and drink are also more at risk."

Those who did venture outside complained of breathing difficulties and watery eyes.

"As long as I was staying indoors I was fine," said Lyudmila Kolesnikova, a housewife. "But outside it is just unbearable, so hard to breathe."

Ninety-three new fires broke out overnight in the Moscow region, bringing the total number of fires to 188 over 548.9 hectares. The Emergency Situations Ministry tripled to 2,250 the number of firefighters battling the blazes in peat bogs and forests, while Moscow region Governor Boris Gromov requested financial aid and other assistance from the federal government.

Smoke from the fires has caused carbon dioxide in the air to jump two to four times higher than accepted levels, said Larisa Minayeva, the deputy head of the city's weather service. The most polluted areas are in central, eastern and northwestern Moscow, she said.

This summer's haze is the worst seen in the city in 30 years.

Domodedovo Airport, in the south of the city, had to redirect inbound flights to other Moscow airports and to Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov and Kazan for several hours Wednesday morning.

Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo airports across town saw higher visibility levels but also redirected some flights. Vnukovo redirected six flights and accepted 12 planes from Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo. Sheremetyevo redirected five flights.

Maxim Marmur / AP

A man holding a handkerchief to his nose and mouth on a Moscow street Thursday. Sales of gauze dust masks skyrocketed.

"We now work in all weather conditions, but those aircraft and their crews were not trained to land in such conditions," Sheremetyevo spokeswoman Yulia Emm said.

All outbound flights took off on schedule, the airports said.

While the airports resumed regular service by Thursday afternoon, Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg was closed to incoming flights all day. "Peat is burning, and we can't see anything at all," a Pulkovo spokeswoman said by phone.

"Only one airplane landed today, from Norilsk," she said. "We don't know what will happen tomorrow."

In Moscow, residents swamped drugstores, looking to buy gauze dust masks and various medications for relief.

Oleg Khimkis, spokesman for the 36.6 chain of drug stores, said demand soared for eyedrops and cardiac and blood pressure medicines.

"We sold almost all of our stock of masks today," said a pharmacist at a drug store near the Domodedovskaya metro station.

A least one company ordered masks for its employees.

"There was a smell of burning in the air when I came to the office this morning. It was not as bad as on the street, but some smoke got into our air conditioning system," said Maria Shchigaleva, an interpreter at Sun Capital. "Our HR manager ordered a box of masks, and we put them on until the smoke dispersed."

Some usually crowded outdoor markets were almost empty.

"There's no trading going on today at all," said Lyudmila, a 28-year-old vendor at a market in northern Moscow. "I guess it is because no one wants to go outside to breathe the smoke.

"I myself have stopped noticing the haze already," she added. "I can see and count money and that is enough."

Some politicians were up in arms about the haze. Gennady Raikov, the head of the State Duma's People's Deputy party, got stranded in Nizhny Novgorod en route to Moscow from Perm, and he attacked Moscow authorities for not coping with the haze.

"This is a natural phenomenon, and we have to show a little patience," Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov told NTV television.

Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov blamed the fires and the haze on the Kremlin. "Not only is the Kremlin engulfed in the haze, but so is Russia for thousands of kilometers," he said.