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Russia tower fire 'under control'
MOSCOW -- At least three people are still thought to be trapped in an elevator after a fire that swept through the world's second-largest tower in central Moscow was reportedly brought under control.
The blaze at the 33-year-old Ostankino TV tower - which has raged for 24 hours -- has prompted fears for the stability of the building, which, at 540 metres (1,772ft), looms over Moscow.
Ten million television viewers across a large area of Russia woke up on Monday to blank screens, with authorities warning it may be weeks -- if not months -- before regular broadcasting can be restored following the fire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the blaze -- coming soon after the devastating bomb blast in a Moscow walkway and the loss of the 118-strong crew of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk -- as an indictment of the state of the nation.
The fire is believed to have started after a short circuit in wiring belonging to a paging company.
Visitors were quickly evacuated from the tower's Seventh Heaven restaurant and observation deck, which were engulfed several hours later as the fire moved down the structure.
Vyacheslav Mulishkin, first deputy director of the Russian Fire Service, said on Monday that temporary firewalls of asbestos placed 70 metres (231ft) up the tower had stopped the fire from spreading.
But he said bundles of steel support cables running up the middle of the tower had been damaged, possibly threatening the structure.
At the height of the blaze, flames engulfed the top section of the tower, from between the peak to beneath the rotating restaurant.
Rescue workers and officials said that the mesh of steel wires forming the skeleton of the tower had been damaged and the heat was so intense it had buckled staircases.
Automatic firefighting systems within the tower appeared to have failed or had run out of fire-suppressing foam, they added, and at least two elevators are known to have been damaged.
Mulishkin said two civilians and a firefighter were trapped in a lift high in the tower. Earlier on Monday, the Emergency Situations Ministry said that there were four trapped people in the elevator, while Russian news agencies said there were only two.
They are believed to be stuck at 271 metres (890ft) after the power to their elevator was cut as they delivered supplies to firefighters, although officials later said they could be higher.
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."
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.
Prosecutors opened an investigation on Monday into whether criminal negligence was responsible for the fire, the Interfax news agency reported.
The fire broke out at 3:20 p.m. local time (1120 GMT) on Sunday about 100 metres above the 340-metre-high (1,095ft) viewing platform and restaurant.
It was reported on Monday that flames had spread down along cables running through the tower and were 100 metres (330ft) from the ground.
"Firemen had to flee the fire raging in the shaft," the commercial NTV network said.
The Ostankino tower was completed in 1967 and was the world's highest tower until Toronto's CN Tower was constructed.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Fire rages in Moscow's giant TV tower
Ostankino Tower (in Russian)
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