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Four feared trapped in burning Moscow tower
MOSCOW -- Four people are believed to be trapped after a fire in the world's second-largest tower -- with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying the blaze is an indictment of the state of the nation.
Firefighters were reported on Monday to have contained the fire after it raged for 24 hours on several floors of Moscow's Ostankino TV tower.
According to witnesses, those trapped include three firefighters and a lift operator. Rescue workers and officials said that the mesh of steel wires forming the skeleton of the 540 metre (1,772ft) tower had been damaged and the heat was so intense it had buckled staircases.
The fire is the third emergency to hit Russia in recent weeks, following the bomb blast at a Moscow underground pass which killed 12 people and the sinking of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea with the loss of 118 sailors.
And Putin told a Cabinet meeting on Monday: "This emergency highlights what condition vital facilities, as well as the entire nation, are in.
"We should not fail to see major problems behind this accident, should not forget the economy."
"It will decide whether such accidents will be possible in future. We must fight methodically for economic success."
Responding to Russian media reports that the tower could collapse, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said: "A large danger arises from the physical condition of the concrete parts of the tower."
Earlier he said that the risk of collapse "practically does not exist."
Interior Ministry spokesman Yevgeny Ryabtsev told Reuters: "So far there is no danger of a collapse. Everything is standing -- for now." But Vladimir Aleksin, a Moscow city surveyor, said the tower's upper spire had tilted slightly, and that the tip of the structure was off-centre by about two metres.
Sergei Shoigu, Russia's emergencies minister, said: "Today we know that some of the wires at 136 metres (446 feet) have developed considerable damage."
A 700-meter exclusion zone around the building was being enforced for security and petrol was being drained from nearby fuel stations as a precaution.
The fire broke out at 3:20 p.m. local time (1120 GMT) on Sunday about 100 metres above the 340-metre-high (1,095 feet) viewing platform and Seventh Heaven restaurant.
It was reported on Monday that flames had spread down along cables running through the tower and were 100 metres (330 feet) from the ground.
"Firemen had to flee the fire raging in the shaft," the commercial NTV network said.
Viktor Luschayev, deputy head of the Moscow Rescue Service, told NTV that hope was fading of saving those trapped in the elevator in the burning building.
He said: "It's impossible to get up there now. The temperature is very high, it has deformed the staircases. The information on the people (in the lift) is contradictory.
"Witnesses said they saw four people -- three firemen and a lift operator. I can only confirm there are two people there, a fireman and the girl operating the lift."
Top section engulfed by fire
Those trapped are believed to be stuck at 271 metres (890 feet) after the power to their elevator was cut as they delivered supplies to firefighters, although officials later said they could be higher.
The Ostankino tower was completed in 1967 and was the world's highest tower until Toronto's CN Tower was constructed.
Flames had earlier engulfed the top section of the tower, from between the peak to beneath the rotating restaurant, which was evacuated soon after the fire broke out.
At one stage, seven firemen escaped unhurt after the elevator they were in plunged down its shaft before the emergency brakes brought it to a halt.
"The lift with the seven firemen on board stopped at a height of 290 metres (951 feet) through an emergency break," the head of the Moscow fire department Leonid Kortchik told Interfax news agency.
Thousands of Muscovites poured into the streets on Sunday to watch the tower blaze into the night.
Amid fears that the top of the tower might collapse, police set up barriers forcing spectators to stand more than 700 metres (2297 feet) away.
RTR state television, briefly blacked out by the fire on Sunday, said a short circuit in banks of electrical equipment at the top of the tower was the fire's likely cause.
Three national television stations which use the tower as a relay station were forced off the air when the fire broke out.
Transmissions were resumed by satellite later, but the majority of Moscow's 10 million viewers woke on Monday to blank screens.
"This is the first time this has happened in the past ten years," RTR news editor Yuliya Gavrushina said.
"Even in 1991 and 1993, we continued to broadcast," she added, referring to two dramatic anti-government coup attempts.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Fire rages in Moscow's giant TV tower
Ostankino Tower (in Russian)
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