Russian deaths mount as heatwave and vodka mix

Russians swim near Moscow amid heatwave Russians have been flockng to lakes and rivers amid soaring temperatures

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Scores of Russians have died in the past few weeks amid a heatwave that shows no sign of breaking.

Many of the dead have drowned after taking a swim - often after having drunk too much vodka.

For the past two weeks temperatures across much of western Russia have soared past 35C, in the hottest and longest heatwave in decades.

Russia is also suffering what is thought to be the worst drought in more than 100 years.

There has been virtually no rain since winter and crops are shrivelling.

"We've had 10mm of rain, scorching hot temperatures over 35C, which have just burnt all the crops up," says Colin Hinchley, a Briton who now farms in Penza near the Volga river, in southern Russia.

"Winter wheat crops are 50% of the yield, and spring crops, in some cases, are going to be virtually none."

A state of emergency has been imposed in 16 Russian regions, and the government is increasing loans to try to help farmers avoid bankruptcy.

"It's a major calamity, the situation is extremely serious," said Viktor Zubkov, the first deputy prime minister responsible for agriculture.

Schoolchildren drown

In the centre of Moscow, teams of tanker trucks roam the streets spraying water to try to stop the asphalt from melting.

At lakes and rivers around Moscow groups of revellers can be seen knocking back vodka and then plunging into the water.

The result is predictable - 233 people have drowned in the last week alone.

In one incident six schoolchildren drowned, because the summer camp employees looking after them were drunk.

The heatwave is expected to last another week. By then Moscow may well have broken through its highest ever temperature of 36.6C.

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