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City news, 11.01.2007 16:04

Russia's St Petersburg fights unseasonal floods

flood Russia's imperial capital, St Petersburg, was fighting floods on Wednesday as winds from the Gulf of Finland whipped up waves near some of the city's Tsarist treasures.

Russia's second city, built on islands and marshes near the River Neva, had to close some embankments to traffic as waves pushed water levels 2.2 metres (7.2 feet) higher than normal.

European Russia has faced an extraordinarily warm winter which has replaced normal freezing temperatures, ice and snow with rain and mud. St Petersburg usually suffers flooding around spring time but this year they have hit in January.

St Petersburg is criss-crossed with canals and bridges and is home to some of the world's best collections of modern art.

The emergency ministry said water had not yet reached the Hermitage Museum, which houses artefacts ranging from Faberge cigarette cases used by the Tsars to paintings by Pablo Picasso.

But water levels were continuing to rise and some houses on the outskirts have already been flooded. Sources in the city's metro system said some underground stations would have to be closed if the water rose much higher.

Russians hold St Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as a 'window on Europe', in special affection because of its imperial elegance and its cultural history as home of writers such as Alexander Pushkin and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Under President Vladimir Putin, who was born in St Petersburg, the city has gained influence with state companies moving to the city, which has lived in Moscow's shadow since the Bolsheviks moved the capital to Moscow in 1918.

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(c) 2000