A massive landslide has all but obliterated one of Russia's most spectacular natural wonders, the Valley of Geysers.
The valley, in the Kronotsky national reserve in Kamchatka, the far-eastern peninsula famed for its volcanoes, contained about 90 geysers, as well as a number of thermal pools, and is the region's most popular tourist attraction.
A snow-covered mound collapsed on Sunday "within seconds" and caused a landslide, about a mile long and 600 feet wide, that buried two thirds of the valley, a park ranger, Valery Tsypkov, said on Russian television.
The landslide dumped millions of cubic metres of mud and stones and destroyed most of the valley's geysers and dozens of thermal springs. It stopped only yards from the valley's only hotel. Tourists and park personnel had to be evacuated, but no injuries were reported.
Natalya Radugova, director of the Kronotsky national reserve, said: "The splendour of the valley has changed beyond recognition." But some officials said they believed there was a positive side to the loss of the valley. The dam that has been formed will turn the valley - which was discovered only in 1941 - into a thermal lake that could become a new "tourist jewel of Russia", said a tourism official Denis Lazarev.
The extent of the damage to the valley's geysers was not immediately clear, but experts feared many of them have been obliterated.
"We witnessed a unique natural event," said Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of Russia's environmental watchdog agency Rosprirodnadzor. "But the consequences of such a natural catastrophe are irreversible."
The sparsely populated Kamchatka peninsula lies about 4,000 miles east of Moscow. It was completely closed to foreigners until 1990, and now attracts thousands of tourists annually with its volcanoes, geysers and national parks.
The 800-mile-long peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk, is one of just five places in the world where geysers - springs ejecting hot water and steam into the air - are found.
"This is tragic for humankind, in that we have lost one of the great natural wonders of the world," said Laura Williams of the wildlife charity WWF on the organisation's website.
"But for Nature, this is only a blip in the history of the planet's evolution."Reuse content