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Buildings lost, rescue uncertain

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Russia's revitalised polar research programme has come to a sudden halt following the disappearance of much of its floating base into the cruel Greenland sea.

The 12 researchers at North Pole-32 - situated 700 km north-west of the Spitzbergen archipelago - escaped intact but now face an ordeal reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing. They are huddled in the remaining buildings and relying on airlifts for supplies, since the base's runway was also lost to the deep. However, bad weather has so far hampered attempted supply drops.

The incident happened at 14.15 GMT on Wednesday. The BBC reports that the base's leader saw "an enormous wall of ice which grew to at least 10 metres in height in a matter of minutes".

The fate of North Pole-32 echoes that of Russia's last polar encampment - evacuated in 1991 after the ice floe on which it was built drifted into a warm current and broke up. North Pole-32 has apparently so far travelled 2,750 km since April when it was established to issue climatic reports.

A spokesman for the Russian hydrometeorology service told the BBC that the base had "strayed too far to the south, hence the problems with melting ice". ®

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