Hurricane kills six in Moscow

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The Independent Online
AT LEAST six people died during a sudden violent storm on Saturday night in Moscow which tore down trees, bent advertising billboards in half, damaged the roof of the Bolshoi Theatre and knocked several turrets off the battlements around the Kremlin.

Thousands of city workers and Interior Ministry troops were deployed across the capital yesterday clearing up broken glass, fallen trees and crushed cars caused by the late-night storm - which the Russian media were describing as an uragan, or hurricane.

There was no official estimate of the damage, but repairs are certain to cost many millions of dollars.

The gale, which meteorologists said was caused by a sudden confluence of hot and cold air over the capital, occurred after two weeks of unusually hot weather that has sent temperatures soaring well above 30C, set off scores of forest fires and led to a sharp rise in the number of drownings.

Storms are rare in Moscow and are generally seen by residents as exceptional, but this one was unusual by any standards. As it whipped through the streets, some 5,000 trees came crashing down - 200 of which were downed within the gardens of the Kremlin alone.

Health officials say 121 people were treated in hospital, mostly for injuries caused by flying debris or falling branches. The half-hour gale - which arrived out of the blue shortly before midnight on Saturday and seemed at times like a whirlwind - toppled a crane on the Moscow River which landed on a motor vessel.

It also ripped down scores of temporary street cafes, broke windows, tore yards of newly-laid copper from half-repaired Kremlin buildings, flooded streets, knocked balconies from the sides of buildings and brought down overhead power and tram wires.

"It was worse than a hurricane," said Mikhail Gordunov, the night manager of a kiosk in central Moscow, who was caught in the thick of it.

Although the worst-hit areas were south and south-west Moscow, the storm caused damage and power losses throughout much of the metropolitan area and affected at least 20 surrounding towns.

The storm has, for the second time this year, set Yury Luzhkov, the pugilistic mayor of Moscow, against Russia's weather forecasters.

Mr Luzhkov, a possible contender for the presidency, personally sought to control the weather during Moscow's 850th anniversary last year by using aircraft to seed approaching rain clouds, causing them to dump their load outside the city limits. He has repeatedly made clear that he dislikes unexpected weather.

In April he criticised Russia's forecasters for failing to predict a cold snap that suddenly buried Moscow under a foot of snow. Yesterday he gave them another tongue-lashing for failing to warn his 10 million citizens about the uragan - another freak phenomenon in a strange meteorological year.

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