Libmonster ID: SE-28
Author(s) of the publication: NATALYA DAVYDOVA, BORIS USTYUGOV

After the incident on Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street, when two buildings and a part of the street instantly collapsed, professionals are saying in unison: This was the first signal. It is necessary to conduct a detailed analysis of the capital's undercity in order to understand what is really happening down there. And finally to work out rules, obligatory for all, on what may and what may not be done so that living "on the surface" could be free from fear. Meanwhile, the authorities have so far kept silent as residents in the capital are getting accustomed to carefully examining each crack in the asphalt - just in case

The Price of Error Problems connected with the reliability of Moscow's ground did not begin today. In the 1960s, Comrade Mikoyan together with a delegation from the GDR was nearly killed by a chunk of molding that fell off from the ceiling of the Grand Kremlin Palace . Shortly before that event the Kremlin Palace of Congresses was built. Soon it transpired that the new structure, beneath which a 18-meter underground bunker was also built, became a kind of a dam, disrupting the normal flow of underground water. The water took a detour, but because the wooden piles underpinning the ancient Kremlin structures can only live in a humid environment, the old palaces and cathedrals had it tough, to put it mildly. When the authorities realized what they had done, it was too late. As early as 1968, a mere seven years after the Palace of Congresses was erected, the first serious restoration work in the Soviet period had to be done in the Kremlin. It has been regularly restored and reinforced since. The costs are not being made public. According to people who ought to know, the latest restoration of the Kremlin alone cost $290 million.

They say that had not thousands of tonnes of concrete been poured under the Great Kremlin Palace, it would simply have collapsed. This sad story is extremely reminiscent of another, which is unfolding a stone's throw away from the Kremlin on Manezh Square. True, thus far nothing has fallen on people's heads. But the underground retail complex with a multilevel garage bodes its immediate neighbors no good - this only became clear, as usual, after the construction was finished.

Experts point out that the construction adversely affected the geosystems. The outcome? Now, deformation of the giant Moskva hotel building is being recorded by eight special sensors installed by scientists from the Earth Physics Institute. The same equipment is used to monitor the "slippage" of the History Museum building on the square. Geology experts from the Earth Physics Institute believe that the cause of possible upheavals is the barrage effect; that is the say, the drainage of deep layers of soil under the buildings. This results in the formation of underground cavities while ground water changes its direction of movement and washes out the soil in hitherto stable places. Incidentally, something like this can happen at any point in Moscow where active construction is under way.

The Dangers In 1992, a special geological status report was presented to the Moscow city government. It was prepared mainly by people from city design and land survey structures related to the construction complex. This group of far from independent experts made the following conclusions: Nearly half of Moscow's territory (48 percent) is located in geological risk zones. By the year 2010, as a result of human activity, as much as 60 percent of the territory in the capital will be at risk. Scientists also estimated the annual cost for the city of dangerous geological changes that are oftentimes provoked by ourselves: Approximately $900 million rubles (in 1989 prices).

The authorities were also advised that the zones of actual geological risk (where subsidence, landslides, or underflooding have already occurred) are especially frequent in the Central and Eastern Districts, where they take up 83 percent and 77 percent of territory, respectively.

Sinkholes, which usually result from disruption of the hydrodynamic balance (for instance, as a result of drainage of underground water) most often occur in the north-western part of the city: Over the past 25 years, 42 holes have been registered there, some of them leading to accidents. For example, in the spring of 1977, a sink hole in Novokhoroshevsky Proyezd, which in two months reached 38 meters in diameter, destroyed two five-story residential buildings. Also in the north-west, according to geodetic surveys, there are 10 potential "sink" zones. To make matters worse, large and far-from-harmless industrial enterprises are located on them.

To cap it all, there are 15 large sections of deep - up to 100 meters - landslides and approximately 200 sections of potential surface landslides developing. In addition, 40 percent of Moscow's territory (and as much as 80 percent in the Eastern District) is flooded, with ground water reaching most communication lines and basements.

This generally dim picture was accompanied by an even gloomier forecast: If geological risks continue to be ignored in future city construction programs, the situation will very soon get even worse! It seems that the forecast was accurate. The construction boom in Moscow, the high price of land, and rampant incompetence could bring a catastrophe to the city.

Taking a Risk Recently the city authorities announced a plan to undertake several more large construction projects beneath Moscow's Streets.

It is planned to build a 200,000 square meter three-level underground retail and leisure complex on Sparrow Hills (the Moscow mayor invited West Merchant Bank President Richard Bryans to finance the project), in a place where no construction work should be undertaken owing to landslides. The deep-lying tunnel that is going to be built under the Lefortovo area during the construction of the Third Ring Road is also planned in an actual geological risk zone. Today no one is saying how much it will cost to maintain this literally golden tunnel. "Of course, a glazier needs hail," was geologists' comment. The current risky "golden" projects, the list of which could be easily continued, guarantee their builders good money in the future - for keeping their constructions in safe condition.

What is remarkable is that none of these projects went through an independent geological examination. Such a council of experts simply does not exist. In building yet another installation, investors and builders are told what they want to hear by the city authorities in charge of city geology. Of course, one can understand the scientists: Their salary is small while making an examination is well paid (approximately $10,000), and if the results of their work do not please the developers, they will simply find other experts.

A Termite Heap According to scientists, many underground structures in the Russian capital are not unlike termite heaps. Various secret tunnels, cellars, and underground galleries began to be built in Moscow back in the 15th century. Some installations gradually fell into disuse, were filled with sand or debris, and were eroded by water. New ones were built in their place. By the early 20th century, the entire city center was dug through and through in all directions. In the 1940s-1960s, the existing cavities and voids were supplemented by whole underground towns. Huge secret underground complexes still exist in the region of Taganskaya Square and Khamovniki. They are classified secret but are inactive. Instead of digging new catacombs and wasting enormous money on controlling damage from new underground structures, the authorities could easily use the old ones.

It was precisely for this purpose that several years ago, historians, geologists, and simply experts on old Moscow and its underground secrets tried to form the Underground Moscow association. But, first, it so happened that even the useless secret underground caves continue to serve as a feeding trough for many people and they will not give up their source of livelihood to anyone. Second, considerable funds were needed to inventory the underground system.

So everything remains as it has always been: Operators are pumping water at abandoned special installations from a depth of several dozen meters. Meanwhile, a pit 42 meters deep and five and a half meters wide under the Gostiny Dvor renovation project was simply filled with debris. Although it could have been used, for instance, as storage space, which is extremely expensive in the center of the city.

Even so, some underground structures are being used - for instance, Metro workers grow mushrooms in some of the empty premises of the Smolenskaya Metro station.

When the question of underground Moscow crops up, for some reason people start talking about members of the Diggers Association, although not a single professional can describe them as serious people. It is not much of an accomplishment to put on rubber pants, walk through the sewer, and talk on camera about mutant rats. Meanwhile, no one listens to serious scientists - until it is too late.


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