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Southern Russia reels from floods as toll climbs to 171

09 july 2012, 14:16
0
©RIA NOVOSTI
©RIA NOVOSTI
Investigators Sunday launched a probe into possible negligence after devastating flash floods in southern Russia killed at least 171 people and President Vladimir Putin demanded officials explain the disaster, AFP reports.

As emergency workers pulled more bodies from the flood waters around Krymsk, the worst-hit district in the southern Krasnodar region, angry survivors insisted they had not received any warning from the authorities.

Putin demanded that officials explain the massive death toll and personally inspected the worst-hit areas Saturday evening, the first major disaster since he came back to the Kremlin for a third term in May.

The Russian strongman compared the force of the water -- which trapped people in their homes at night, ripped up pavements and traffic lights and flooded rail tracks -- to a "tsunami" and said that the top investigator would conduct a probe to see "who acted how."

He also quickly moved to address concerns that the deluge might have been caused by an emergency opening of sluice gates at a local reservoir, with the Kremlin issuing a statement that Putin had been told it was not the cause of the flooding.

At least 171 people died in the disaster, including 12 in the port of Novorossiisk and the popular Black Sea resort town of Gelendzhik where five were electrocuted, a police official with the emergency task force in Moscow told AFP.

Police said earlier 11 were killed in those two cities.

The worst hit area was a district around Krymsk, a town of around 57,000 where rescue teams have found 159 bodies including three children, police said. Most of the victims were pensioners, many caught by the floods in their sleep.

Krymsk is about 200 kilometres (120 miles) northwest of the Black Sea resort of Sochi where Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Flash floods frequently batter towns along the picturesque Black Sea coast during seasonal rains in the Caucasus mountains, but authorities say the current disaster is unprecedented.

Officials have been unable to explain the massive death toll, saying only the floods were caused by torrential rains over the past few days and caught many people unawares.

The force of the water was so ferocious that many residents said they suspected the floods were caused by a release of water at a local reservoir on the Neberdzhai River.

In a bid to address persistent concerns, Putin, wearing a black shirt, was shown on television grilling officials about whether an emergency release of water was possible.

"Where did the water come from?" Putin asked government officials in televised remarks.

Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachev swiftly replied: "It was raining."

Investigators however acknowledged Sunday that repeated releases of water did happen but it remained unclear whether it might have contributed to the disaster.

"Over the course of 13 hours portioned releases of water were repeatedly conducted in an automated mode," spokesman for regional investigators Sengerov said in televised remarks.

"But there were not some large-scale water releases. We have yet to establish how much they could have affected the development of events."

Investigators also opened a criminal investigation into possible negligence but did not provide further details.

Facing a crowd of angry people, governor Tkachev was forced to fend off charges that the government had not done its job properly and sought to explain it was simply impossible to notify each and everyone.

"It's like an earthquake. It's impossible to predict it. "Do you think it was man-made?" Tkachev asked the crowd in televised remarks Sunday. "Yees!" the people cried back.

He had earlier called on people to stop spreading "stupid rumours," saying the region received five months' worth of rain.

Some residents bluntly accused authorities of a cover-up.

"It always rains here but we've never had this before. A seven-metre tall wave crushed everything," Irina Morgunova told AFP in Krymsk. "That is not rain. But no-one will ever say it out loud."

Krymsk residents also complained they have been left to their own devices and authorities offered no help.

"It's a catastrophe," said Viktor Voloshin, who arrived in the flood-ravaged town earlier Sunday to help relatives whose house was damaged.

"People need drinking water but there is no drinking water being distributed," he told AFP.

"We have 30-degree weather now, diseases will begin," he added.

Putin said survivors would get new homes while families of victims would receive two million rubles ($60,800) each.

The Kremlin said a national day of mourning would be observed on Monday, recommending that all entertainment programming be pulled from state television channels.

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