Historic heat to dent Russian growth, fires rage

Tue Aug 10, 2010 3:53pm EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman and Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's deadly summer heatwave could wipe up to $14 billion off economic growth, economists said Tuesday, as wildfires raged on in several provinces and forecasters said sweltering weather would not abate this week.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has sought to burnish his action-man image and minimize political fallout from wildfires and drought, flew in a firefighting plane that dropped water on a blaze southeast of Moscow, state media reported.

State-run television showed Putin wearing headphones in a cockpit, pressing buttons on a handheld control panel.

Weather forecasters said by Monday the unprecedented heatwave had lasted for an uninterrupted 50-day streak in Moscow and central Russia, with day temperatures hovering at 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) or above.

An Interior Ministry officer and a prisons service guard died fighting fires near the Sarov nuclear research center and in the nearby Mordovia region, bringing the official death toll from the fires to 54.

But doctors say hundreds more people are believed to have died from the effects of the heatwave and smoke choking Moscow.

The U.S. State Department is allowing nonessential staff and dependents of the embassy in Moscow to leave if they want.

The worst heatwave on record could knock 1 percentage point off gross domestic product, according to estimates, weakening a recovery from a 2009 slump due to the global financial crisis.   Continued...