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Jul 14, 2010 5:17 PM by Melissa Canone

Scores of Drunk Russians Drown Amid Heat Wave

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Dozens of Russians, many of them drunk, are drowning daily as they head to water to escape a heatwave, an emergencies ministry official said on Wednesday.

Vodka-drinking groups -- some with small children -- can be seen at lakes and ponds in and around the Russian capital where the current three-week heatwave may set a record of 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) this weekend.

"Russia's Emergencies Ministry is very worried by the current situation. In the last day alone, 49 people drowned (in Russia), including two children, Vadim Seryogin, a department head at the ministry, told a news conference.

More than 1,200 people drowned across Russia in June this year, he said, including 233 between July 5 and July 12.

"The majority of those drowned were drunk," he said. "The children died because adults simply did not look after them."

Last week six children drowned in the Sea of Azov in southern Russia because the summer camp employees who were minding them were drunk.

Weather forecasters say the heatwave will last another week.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday the heat was a major problem for Russian agriculture, echoing concerns from Russia's grain lobby, which said the country was undergoing the worst drought in 130 years of weather observations.

The government imposed a state of emergency in 16 regions where the heat destroyed grains in an area the size of Portugal.

The Kremlin also canceled its trooping the color ceremony on July 17, a tourist attraction held on Saturdays when soldiers in 19th century uniforms show off their horse-riding and arms handling skills.

"Holding the ritual in such conditions may put in danger the health of all participants of the ceremony," Itar-Tass news agency quoted a spokeswoman for the Federal Protection Service (FSO) as saying.

Itar-TASS also quoted a spokesman for Russian land forces as saying that troops had suspended night exercises due to a high risk of fires that might be sparked by tracer bullets, incendiary projectiles and flares.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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