US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

On May 22, the AP reported that an explosion in a nine-story apartment building on Kutuzovsky Prospektin central Moscow believed to have been caused by natural gas has injured four people including a U.S. Embassy Moscow diplomat.

On the same day, the US Embassy in Moscow released the following brief statement:

The U.S. Embassy confirms that a U.S. diplomat was injured in a reported gas explosion at an apartment building on Kutuzovskiy Prospect today. While few details are currently available, we are closely monitoring the situation and appreciate the support shown for our employee’s quick recovery.

The State Department spokesperson also made the following statement:

A U.S. Embassy employee in Moscow was injured in a reported gas explosion at an apartment building in Moscow earlier today. The employee has been hospitalized and is receiving medical treatment. Other employees who lived in the building have been evacuated. Our thoughts, of course, are with the Embassy employee and her family. We appreciate the support we have received from Russian authorities, including first responders. And beyond that, of course, there are just few details available about the cause.

ITAR-TASS reported that a female U.S.citizen injured in the explosion was brought to a hospital in a helicopter of Russia’s Emergencies Ministry (EMERCOM).

The Moscow Times, citing law enforcement authorities also  reported that the embassy worker received burns on up to 80 percent of her body. Investigators have reportedly opened a criminal case into the explosion on charges of violating construction safety regulations, which is punishable by a prison sentence of up to three years.

Two State Department sources confirmed that the employee, an OMS on official orders working at the embassy had died. After the embassy employee was heloed to a local Russian hospital, she was reportedly airlifted by the State Department soon thereafter to a special burn hospital in Linkoping, outside of Stockholm where she died a few days later.

A former co-worker at another post was concerned that there has been no public  statement about the employee’s death. “I would think the death of a diplomat would get something from AFSA or State, even if it was from an accident.”  We sent out several inquiries but no one would speak on the record.  Since the name has not been officially released, and no obit has yet been published, we will refrain from identifying the victim at this time.

What about that gas explosion?

We were told that the victim lived in an apartment building that housed over a dozen other US embassy staffers. The explosion happened in the morning and most of the other diplomats were out of the building.  She was supposedly waiting for the repair crew to come and take care of a reported gas leak.  All other mission employees have been relocated elsewhere and are awaiting to either get permission to return to their apts or get a new housing assignment.  The State Department fire inspector arrived this week.

This is not the first gas explosion involving embassy housing.  There was another gas explosion late last year in an embassy owned house.  We were told that the family reportedly escaped in time in that incident. Unconfirmed rumors at this time that the residents had complained about the smell of gas prior to this incident. Perhaps the current investigation would help shed light whether this happened or not. But wait, how are we going to learn about it when there’s …

An information blackout?

The Russian press  continued covering this incident following the blast, but there apparently was radio silence inside the mission for almost three days following this accident. And now there’s very little talk about this incident or the death of the employee, why?  Blame that to the cable that went out to all diplomatic and consular posts with “fairly strict instructions” not to share information about this with the “public.” We understand that the CDA also told personnel that they will be informed of the results of the investigation, regardless of the outcome.  Let’s watch out for that. Our email inquiry to US Embassy Moscow got lost in a  sink hole and from the looks of it, is still lost.

As an aside — we really do think the State Department should be compelled to report deaths of official Americans overseas. Why? Because they went overseas on USG orders. DOD identifies its casualties, why not State? At a minimum there ought to be  a reporting of all deaths from unnatural causes of USG personnel under chief of mission authority.

Sec. 204(c) of P.L. 107-228, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, mandates that, to the maximum extent practicable, the Department of State collect and make available on the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site certain information with respect to each United States citizen who dies in a foreign country from a non-natural cause. Unfortunately, the numbers available do not appear to include deaths of embassy personnel and family members on official orders.   For instance, George Anikow, a US Marine and spouse of US Embassy diplomat was murdered in the Philippines in November 2012. CA Bureau’s death records for the Philippines indicate zero death for November 2012.

The AFSA memorial plaque only includes Americans “who lost their lives under heroic, other inspirational circumstances, or otherwise in the line of duty.” As far as we can tell, the plaque excludes certain deaths and it is not an exhaustive list of all personnel lost year to year.

* * *