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Scientist saved from ice floe tells of disaster

MOSCOW -- When huge ice slabs smashed a Russian meteorological station and plunged it into the frigid Arctic sea last week, all researchers could do was stand back and film the cataclysm for posterity, one of the scientists said yesterday.

Vladimir Koshelyev was one of 12 researchers rescued Saturday after being left stranded for four days by the disaster on the floe, 400 miles from the North Pole.

Ice floes are subject to tremendous stresses as they drift. Fissures open and then close, causing massive ice slabs to pile up in huge hummocks, or ridges. Some rose to 45 feet near the station, Koshelyev said.

As the hummocks rose, the scientists packed up their equipment and watched uneasily.

On March 3, the hummocks started shifting, causing massive slabs of ice to collapse, destroying the station's nine buildings and four tents within 25 minutes, Koshelyev said. Two tents survived.

Koshelyev showed journalists a video and slideshow of buildings being crushed by the hummocks. Some were hoisted several feet in the air by the slabs of ice before being dropped into the sea.

The researchers were not in the buildings at the time. Koshelyev said the station's equipment was salvaged.

The station, which was set up last April, was Russia's first drifting station after a 12-year hiatus.

The search is on for a suitable ice floe for the next polar research station, which will be launched in August, said Vladimir Sokolov, director of arctic expeditions.

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