Floods leave 50,000 homeless

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RUSSIAN MILITARY jets have been bombing giant icebergs that are floating down a river running from the Arctic Ocean into the Russian Far East, in an attempt to offset massive flooding that has driven more than 50,000 people from their homes.

Tens of thousands of people in the vast Sakha republic are "struggling to survive after losing everything" in the floods, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said yesterday, announcing a $1.2m (pounds 750,000) appeal.

The disaster, which is occurring along the River Lena and its tributaries, is being linked with this year's erratic weather, which has brought a fortnight of sweltering heat in Moscow, followed by hurricane-force winds that killed 10 people, damaged the Kremlin, did an estimated $166m worth of damage and flattened at least 50,000 of the capital's trees.

According to the Red Cross, the floods were caused by a huge build-up of snow and icebergs in the river's northern reaches. "Temperatures rose sharply, causing a rapid thaw, critically raising the water level along the River Lena," said Caroline Hurford, of the Red Cross in Moscow. "Gigantic ice floes were forced down river, causing an ice-jam, which the authorities bombed from the air in an attempt to ease the flow."

The republic, like Russia's federal government, is in fiscal crisis and lacks the funds to pay for the havoc caused by the floods, which have destroyed hundreds of homes and thousands of cattle and horses, as well as causing the evacuation of tens of thousands of rural inhabitants.

"More than 50,000 people, already clinging to a fragile existence before the flood, could soon be pushed beyond endurance when the winter arrives and temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees Celsius," Ms Hurford said.

"The urgency for action is both because people need help now, and because the River Lena, Sakha's main means of transporting assistance, freezes in mid-October."