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Russia floods: Thousands evacuated after burst dam worsens record water levels and threatens city

Tens of thousands have been left stranded by extreme seasonal floods worsened by two burst dams in southern Russia

Tom Watling
Tuesday 09 April 2024 16:12 BST
Rescuers evacuate residents from the flooded part of the city of Orsk, in Russia’s Orenburg region
Rescuers evacuate residents from the flooded part of the city of Orsk, in Russia’s Orenburg region (Getty)

Thousands more people have been warned to evacuate immediately in southern Russia, as two major rivers swelled beyond bursting point in the worst flooding in the area for decades.

A state of emergency has been declared in multiple regions of southern Russia after two dams on the Ural River burst in Orsk over the weekend, exacerbating an already difficult situation in the area caused by extreme seasonal floods.

The river swelled several metres in just hours on Friday due to melt water from the nearby mountain range. By Saturday, the water levels had risen to 31ft, according to regional authorities, nearly double the 18ft level the dam was designed to withstand.

Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations said floods were threatening the southern Kurgan region east of the river, putting more than 19,000 people at risk, as well as the Tyumen area nearby. Authorities said more than 6,500 people have already been evacuated and that more than 10,000 homes were flooded throughout Orsk as a result of the burst dam.

Parts of the Russian city of Orenburg, located 180 miles downstream of Orsk and with a population of 500,000 residents, may be flooded in the next 24 hours, officials also said, with water levels set to rise by up to nearly half a metre.

An aerial picture taken on 8 April shows the flooded part of the city of Orsk (Getty)
This grab taken from an aerial handout footage released by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry on 9 April 9, shows floods in Orenburg (Russian Emergency Situations Ministry)

With so much water flowing into rivers, emergencies were declared in Orenburg, Kurgan and Tyumen, a major oil-producing region of western Siberia.

The damage to the wider Orenburg region has already been estimated at around £178m, according to authorities. Local governor Denis Pasler said the floods were the worst to hit the area since records began.

Sirens in Kurgan, a city on the Tobol river, a tributary of the Irtysh, warned people to evacuate immediately. In Kurgan, a region with around 800,000 residents, drone footage showed traditional Russian wooden houses and the golden cupolas of Russian Orthodox churches stranded among a vast expanse of water.

​​Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has asked the government to set up a commission to deal with the emergency, his office said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Putin had ordered the governors of the two regions east of the river, Tyumen and Kurgan, to prepare for an “expected sharp rise in water levels” and “inevitable” floods. Mr Peskov added that so far Mr Putin doesn’t plan to travel to the flooded regions.

“The difficult days are still ahead for the Kurgan and Tyumen regions,” Mr Peskov said. “There is a lot of water coming.”

Videos posted on social media showed dozens of angry Orsk residents protesting against their local officials on Monday, complaining that they had not done enough to help with the worst flooding on record. One video showed roughly 100 people chanting “Shame” and “Putin, help”.

The local prosecutor’s office warned residents against staging any demonstrations but several hundred people gathered outside the mayor’s office in Orsk on Monday.

At one point, Vasily Kozupitsa, the Orsk mayor, attempted to address the protesters, who complained that civilians had to procure boats and rescue relatives and livestock on their own.

Government agency, the Investigative Committee of Russia, has opened a criminal case as a result of “violation of safety measures” and “negligence”, citing the dam’s alleged poor maintenance as a cause of the breach.

President Putin also spoke to Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the president of Kazakhstan, where more than 86,000 people have been evacuated due to flooding. Mr Tokayev said the flooding was probably the worst in 80 years.

The most severely hit areas are the Atyrau, Aktobe, Akmola, Kostanai, eastern Kazakhstan, northern Kazakhstan and Pavlodar regions, most of which border Russia and are crossed by rivers originating in Russia such as the Ural and the Tobol.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

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