MOSCOW -- Militiamen are patrolling the deserted streets of Chernobyl and Pripyat to keep looters from sneaking into the forbidden zone around the site of history's worst nuclear power plant disaster, Soviet newspapers reported Tuesday.
Boris Semyonov, deputy chairman of the state committee for atomic energy, said radiation levels on the western border of the Soviet Union had fallen to within normal levels almost six weeks after the April 26 accident.
He said concrete barriers were being built around the reactor to trap radioactive soil that could be washed off into nearby rivers during the rainy season.
Soviet officials have put the death toll from the disaster at 26 with about 80 people in critical condition in hospitals in Moscow and Kiev with severe radiation exposure.
The Communist Party newspaper Pravda said landlords in Black Sea resort towns, to where many children where evacuated following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, are taking advantage of others' misfortune by charging extremely high rent to visiting parents.
The newspaper Sovetskaya Rossia said militiamen were being sent to the evacuated towns near the reactor site to guard against possible looting by evacuees sneaking back into the off-limits 19-mile radius of Chernobyl.
About 100,000 people were evacuated from the Chernobyl area, 600 miles southwest of Moscow, after the accident, which sent a radioactive cloud floating across much of Europe and parts of Asia and the United States.
'Militiamen are now in place to guard public and state property from theft and to limit access to the area,' the newspaper said, adding that no cases of looting had yet been reported.
Before the accident, the town of Chernobyl had a population of about 30,000, about the same as Pripyat. Soviet officials say many evacuees may never be permitted to return home because of the high radiation levels.
Tens of thousands of schoolchildren from the area as well as the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, 80 miles south, were sent early to summer camps to escape radiation contamination.
The newspaper said militamen found two women, ages 85 and 74, who had been hiding for more than a month in their apartments at Pripyat, 4 miles from damaged reactor. The women, who hid themselves after refusing to evacuate, were discovered May 28 and 29. They have since been hospitalized but their conditions, after being exposed to intense radiation for more than a month, were not mentioned.
Pravda published a series of readers' letters complaining about exorbitant rent being charged to parents who want to be near their frightened children evacuated from the disaster area.
A woman identified as B. Karas said she wanted to be near her 10-year-old daughter, who was being treated at a sanatorium in Yalta, to help her adjust to the new surroundings.
She arranged her vacation and went to the Black Sea resort town only to find rents had jumped from $7 a night to as much as $11, she said.
'One person's misfortune is another's profit,' she complained.
Although people with choice seaside accommodations have long made extra money by renting out rooms at higher rates than Soviet law allows, the problem appears to have increased dramatically since children were evacuated to the Black Sea area after the accident.