Russia, Kazakhstan battle record floods as rivers rise

ORENBURG, Russia — The Russian city of Orenburg battled rising water levels on Thursday after major rivers across Russia and Kazakhstan burst their banks in the worst flooding seen in the areas in nearly a century.

The deluge of meltwater has forced over 110,000 people from their homes in Russia’s Ural Mountains, Siberia and Kazakhstan as major rivers such as the Ural, which flows through Kazakhstan into the Caspian, overwhelmed embankments.

Residents in the city of Orenburg said the waters of the Ural rose very swiftly and to far beyond breaking point, forcing them to flee with just their children, pets and a few belongings.

“It came very quickly at night,” Taisiya, 71, told Reuters in Orenburg, a city of 550,000 about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow. “By the time I got ready, I couldn’t get out.”

Whole areas of the city were underwater, and the Ural rose another 32 cm (13 inches) to 10.54 meters (34.6 feet), 124 cm (49 inches) above the level considered by local authorities as safe. Officials warned the river would rise further.

The flooding has struck Russia’s Urals and the northern Kazakhstan worst, though waters are also rising southern parts of Western Siberia, the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world, and in some places near the Volga, Europe’s biggest river.

Water levels were also rising in Siberia’s Tomsk, which sits on the Tom River, a tributary of the Ob, and in Kurgan, which straddles the Tobol River.

After the Ural burst through dam embankments in Orsk, upstream from Orenburg, on Friday, some residents expressed anger over how local officials had handled the situation, demanding greater compensation and begging for help from President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin said Putin was being updated regularly on the situation but had no current plans to visit the area while emergency services tried to deal with rising waters.

In Orenburg, some residents expressed disappointment that local officials had not done enough to prepare for the annual snow melt.

“There is a lot of excitement, indignation and strong emotions that I understand and share,” Orenburg Mayor Sergei Salmin said. “The issue of receiving compensation and the procedure for processing payments is one of the main ones.”

Snow melt

Spring flooding is a usual part of life across Russia — which has an area equal to the United States and Australia combined — as the heavy winter snows melt, swelling some of the mighty rivers of Russia and Central Asia.

This year, though, a combination of factors triggered unusually severe flooding, according to emergency workers.

They said soil was waterlogged before winter and then frozen under deep snow falls, which melted very fast in rising spring temperatures and heavy rains.

Climate researchers have long warned that rising temperatures could increase the incidence of extreme weather events, and that heavily forested Russia is of major importance in the global climate equation.

In Kurgan, a region which straddles the Tobol river, water levels rose in Zverinogolovkoye beyond the critical 10 metre (33 foot) mark, said Governor Vadim Shumkov who was shown visiting evacuated families.

Kazakhstan has been badly hit.

The emergencies ministry said on Thursday morning that the number of evacuees stood at over 97,000, unchanged from Wednesday, and a state of emergency remained in effect in eight regions of the country.

Emergency workers have removed 8.8 million cubic metres (310 million cubic feet) of water from flooded areas, the ministry said. The Kazakh government also said movement was restricted on hundreds of kilometers of roads in the Aktobe, Akmola, Atyrau, Kostanai, Mangistau and North Kazakhstan regions.

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