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Crews Extinguish Fire Atop Moscow Television Tower; Russian President Putin Decries State of National Infrastructure

Aired August 28, 2000 - 2:24 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Crews extinguished a fire atop Europe's tallest structure today. The accident at Moscow's television tower killed at least two people and wounded Russia's national pride.

Here's Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): It pierces the skyline of Moscow, Russia's version of the Eiffel Tower, trailing smoke from a blaze firefighter struggled for more than 24 hours to contain. For some Muscovites like Kiril (ph), the fire at Ostankino television tower hits home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It'd be a shame if the tower falls over or is unusable. It's a symbol of Moscow. I was born in this neighborhood and have been looking at it every day of my life.

DOUGHERTY: It was opened the fifth of November, 1967, the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. It's soaring height, almost twice the size of the Eiffel Tower, and its unique concrete and metal construction were testimony to the scientific prowess of communist Russia. It boasts a restaurant, an observation platform, and transmitters for all the major television, radio and paging companies broadcasting to Moscow.

When the fire broke out, government officials blamed a short circuit. But whatever safety system there was could not contain it.

The fire came just two weeks after a failed attempt to save the lives of 118 Russian sailors in the sinking of the submarine Kursk, and almost three weeks after a bomb in a Moscow underground walkway killed 12 people.

For Liana (ph), watching the fire late Sunday night, the string of tragedies is deeply disturbing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): What is Russia coming to? They can't extinguish anything. It's one catastrophe after another.

DOUGHERTY: The fire has effectively blacked out all television, most pagers and several radio stations to the region's 10 million people. The disruptions, says Russia's president, a result of the country's desperate economic situation.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): This last emergency shows the state of our vital establishments and the state of our whole country.

DOUGHERTY (on camera): The Russian government admits at least half the country's infrastructure is obsolete, and officials warn the country is vulnerable to even more major technological disasters.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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