Russian patriarch prays for rain as wildfires rage

Sun Aug 1, 2010 12:01pm EDT
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By Dmitry Solovyov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill asked Russians to pray for rain on Sunday as wildfires raged across the European parts of the vast country, sweltering since June in an unprecedented heat wave.

The hottest weather since records began 130 years ago has withered crops and pushed thousands of farmers to the verge of bankruptcy.

The Emergencies Ministry said that as of Sunday morning, 774 fires, including 369 that started since Saturday, were raging in an area totaling about 130,000 hectares (500 sq miles), about the size of the administrative area of the city of Los Angeles.

At least 28 people have died in wildfires in European Russia in the past few days, the ministry said and more than 5,200 people have been evacuated.

"Grief has come to our nation, human lives have been lost, hundreds have lost shelter and thousands have been left without sustenance, including many children," national media quoted Patriarch Kirill as saying in a prayer during a visit to the Nizhny Novgorod region, one of the worst hit by fires.

"I call upon everyone to unite in a prayer for rain to descend on our earth."

Thick smoke from nearby forest fires blanketed a magnificent monastery where Kirill, clad in a richly embroidered gold cloak, conducted an outdoor liturgy glorifying a Russian saint, Russia's NTV channel showed.

The mainly elderly worshippers stood on their knees as Kirill prayed for rain. "This (fires) is punishment sent to us for sins," a woman worshipper told NTV.   Continued...

<p>Rescue personnel remove the debris of a burnt out house in the village of Borkovka, outside the town of Vyksa, some 150 km (93 miles) southwest of the Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod, July 31, 2010. Raging wildfires spread across parts of western Russia on Saturday, engulfing 30 percent more land in just 24 hours, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin described the situation as very difficult. REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky</p>