Record flood waters rise in Russia’s Urals, forcing thousands to flee

Moscow — Flood waters were rising in two cities in Russia’s Ural mountains on Sunday after Europe’s third longest river burst through a dam, flooding at least 6,000 homes and forcing thousands of people to flee with just their pets and a few belongings. 

A string of Russian regions in the Ural Mountains and Siberia, alongside parts of neighboring Kazakhstan have been hit in recent days by some of the worst floods in decades. 

The Ural River, which rises in the Ural Mountains and flows into the Caspian Sea, swelled several meters in just hours on Friday due to melt water, bursting through a dam embankment in the city of Orsk, 1,800 km (1,100 miles) east of Moscow. 

More than 4,000 people were evacuated in Orsk as swathes of the city of 230,000 were flooded. Footage published by the Emergencies Ministry showed people wading through neck-high waters, rescuing stranded dogs and traveling along flooded roads in boats and canoes.  

President Vladimir Putin ordered Emergencies Minister Alexander Kurenkov to fly to the region. The Kremlin said on Sunday that flooding was now also inevitable in the Urals region of Kurgan and the Siberian region of Tyumen. 

Putin had spoken to the governors of the regions by telephone, the Kremlin said. 

The Orenburg region’s governor, Denis Pasler, said the floods were the worst to hit the region since records began. 

He said that flooding had been recorded along the entire course of the 2,400 km (1,500 mile) Ural River, which flows through Orenburg region and then through Kazakhstan into the Caspian Sea.  

Russian media cited Orenburg region authorities as estimating the cost of flood damage locally as around $227 million, and saying that flood waters would dissipate only after April 20. 

In Kazakhstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Saturday the floods were his country’s largest natural disaster in terms of scale and impact for 80 years. 

Flood warnings were issued in other Russian regions and Kurenkov said the situation could get worse very fast.  

“The water is coming, and in the coming days its level will only rise,” said Sergei Salmin, the mayor of Orenburg, a city of at least 550,000 people. “The flood situation remains critical.” 

Emergencies Minister Kurenkov said bottled water and mobile treatment plants were needed, while local health officials said vaccinations against Hepatitis A were being conducted in flooded areas.  

Local officials said the dam in Orsk was built for a water level of 5.5 meters (18 feet)yet the Ural River rose to 9.6 meters (31.5 feet). 

Federal investigators opened a criminal case for negligence and the violation of safety rules over the construction of the 2010 dam, which prosecutors said had not been maintained properly. 

The Orsk oil refinery suspended work on Sunday due to the flooding. Last year, the Orsk Refinery processed 4.5 million tons of oil.

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