Muscovites Flee Worst Heat `in 1,000 Years'; Death Rate Doubles
Muscovites fled the Russian capital in record numbers as extreme heat combined with acrid smoke from wildfires, slowing trading on the city’s main stock exchange and emptying restaurants.
More than 104,400 people flew out of Moscow yesterday, topping the previous 2010 record of 101,000, according to the Federal Air Transportation Agency. On Aug. 7, 95,000 left the city by plane, 20 percent more than the year-earlier date, agency spokesman Sergei Izvolsky said by telephone today.
Moscow set a daily heat record of 35.5 degrees Celsius (95.5 degrees Fahrenheit) today, the seventh such record this month and the 19th of the summer, said Tatyana Pozdnyakova, a spokeswoman for the city’s weather service. The city reached 38.2 degrees Celsius, the highest ever, on July 29.
The heat wave, smoke from forest fires across central Russia and the Volga River region, and the country’s worst drought in half a century have combined to hobble agriculture and slow the services industry and manufacturing. Financial companies are now affected.
Some Moscow banks reduced working hours in response to the searing heat and smog, driving trading on the Micex Stock Exchange to 21.6 billion rubles ($722 million) on Aug. 6, the lowest level since July 9, Bloomberg data show. That compares with 68.4 billion rubles on the same date last year.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Alfa Bank, Russia’s biggest private lender, canceled daily research reports today as employees left Moscow or opted to remain home.
Restaurants in the capital are struggling to attract customers as residents stay home or leave town to beat the heat.
“The entire business is at a standstill,” Alexander Ivanov, vice president of the Moscow-based Federation of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, said by telephone. “I don’t have statistics, but if there aren’t any people, what business are we talking about?”
Drought has forced the government to declare states of emergency in 28 crop-producing regions. Agriculture accounts for about 4 percent of gross domestic product, according to Moscow- based VTB Capital.
Russia’s 2010 grain harvest may be between 60 million and 65 million metric tons, compared with 97.1 million tons last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said today.
Russia, the world’s third-biggest grower of wheat, banned grain exports to the end of the year as crops wither. Putin said the ban may be extended.
“A significant number of regions will go into the new year without winter crops,” as the drought prevents planting, Putin said. “So no one should count on a quick removal of the ban.”
In the Chelyabinsk region, a fire emergency was declared in Ozyorsk, site of the Mayak center for processing and storage of spent nuclear fuel, the local government said on its website.
The heat wave that has plagued central Russia since June is the worst in the country’s history, said Alexander Frolov, head of Rosgidromet, the federal weather service. “In 1,000 years, neither we nor our ancestors have observed or recorded anything like this sort of heat,” he said in televised comments.
In Moscow, the heat and smoke nearly doubled the city’s death rate to about 700 a day from 360 to 380 in normal conditions, Interfax reported, citing Andrei Seltsovsky, head of the city’s public health department.
Carbon monoxide and suspended particulate matter in Moscow’s air is at least twice as high as acceptable levels, Yelena Lezina, a spokeswoman for the state environmental monitoring agency, told Rossiya 24. Smoke from fires has reached St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, the state news channel reported.
Crews are battling 557 fires on 174,035 hectares (672 square miles), according to the Emergency Situations Ministry. So far this year, 747,722 hectares, an area about three times the size of Luxembourg, have burned, the ministry said in an e- mailed statement.
The wildfire situation in the Moscow region remains “tense,” Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement on the ministry website. At the current pace of work, rescue officials will be able to cope with the flames in five to seven days, he said.