Thursday, May 26, 2005

Don't ever play chicken with a Russian

These people drive like maniacs (anyone from Philly should just picture the Willow Grove exit of the PA turnpike/route 611 at it's worst, and you have driving in Russia)! Needless to say, those bizarre traffic patterns in Moscow yesterday made it an even more treacherous place to drive when the electrical outage hit. We decided to cab it from the train station when the line for the metro was outrageous (very lucky for us or I'd have been spitting bullets stuck in a train with no electricity in 8o F weather - I now feel really guilty for complaining about being stuck on the PA turnpike for 6 hours last Monday).

The original story we heard upon our arrival in Moscow was that there was an electrical fire.
15 of 28 hospitals in the city had adequate back-up generators to keep them functional (the one we were at was one of these hospitals - and they were inundated with new patients). To understand exactly how many patients weer affected, you need to understand how HUGE these hospitals are - they are small cities, many of which have in excess of 1,500 beds. Four regions - Moscow, Tula, Kaluga & Ryazan were affected. In Moscow alone, the power outage left 1500 people stuck in elevators (their elevators are about 1 third the size of an average elevator in a US building) and 20,000 people stranded on the Metro. It looked like another 5-10,000 people were on the street trying to get a taxi and the fares were increased accordingly; the cost to get from the train station to Domodedovo airport went to about 5,000 rubles, which is about $180 dollars. To put this in perspective, an attending level physician makes about $200/month.

The rumor mill and rumor control was quite interesting. We had originally thought the traffic problems were due to solely to some nasty accidents ahead of us, at the hospital we were informed that there had been some sort of electrical fire and a power outage. Later we heard there'd been an explosion and, even later still, we were told that we should stay inside/seek immediate cover if it started to rain as there were stories there may have been a chemical explosion. This, of course, spiked rumors of terrorist activity - a few folks here think the black-out in NY was terrorist activity as well (I had to tell them I was sure it wasn't because our current regime would have milked that bit of information for all it was worth). Oddly, with all the rumors and the swealtering heat + humidity, people seemed relatively calm. Restaurants & bars were back open by dinner time (Jalapeno Margaritas = interesting experience) and by the time I got back to the hotel to catch the news, Putin was ripping Unified Energy Systems chief, Anatoly Chubais a new asshole.

This morning, the newspapers reported the explosion story came from Energy & Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko, who stated there was an explosion at the Chagino power station located south of Moscow. This story has been denied and the official story is that there was a glitch shortly after the Chagino sub-station caught fire the previous evening. The chemical explosion story and warnings came about due to a discharge of nitrogen dioxide at the Origsintez chemical plant in Tula (south of Moscow).

The Prosecutor General's Office has opened an investigation into "Criminal Negligence" against Chubais, who apologized for the inconvenience but blamed the record heat for the problem. A conviction could land Chubais with a fine of up to $120,000 rubles and up to 3 months in a forced labor camp or prison. If convicted, he'd best pray he's not locked up with anyone who was stuck in the metro yesterday.


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