Russia, Kazakhstan evacuate 100,000 people in worst flooding in decades

ORSK, Russia — Russia and Kazakhstan ordered more than 100,000 people to evacuate after swiftly melting snow swelled rivers beyond bursting point in the worst flooding in the area for at least 70 years. 

The deluge of melt water overwhelmed scores of settlements in the Ural Mountains, Siberia and areas of Kazakhstan close to rivers such as the Ural and Tobol, which local officials said had risen by meters in a matter of hours to the highest levels ever recorded. 

Late on Tuesday, levels of the Ural River in Orenburg, a city of around 550,000, reached 9.31 meters (30.54 feet) exceeding the critical level of 9.30 meters (30.51 feet), the regional governor said. He urged residents in areas at risk to evacuate. 

“I am calling for caution and for those in flooded districts to evacuate promptly,” Denis Pasler said on Telegram. 

City residents paddled along roads as though they were rivers. Dams and embankments were being strengthened.  

Upstream on the Ural, floodwaters burst through an embankment dam in the city of Orsk last Friday. 

Regional officials said water levels in Orsk had subsided by 21 centimeters (.68 feet) and now stood at 9.07 meters 29.75 feet), still well over the official danger level of about 7 meters (22.96 feet). Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said water levels had declined in a number of areas but described the situation as “still difficult.” 

The Ural is Europe’s third-longest river, which flows through Russia and Kazakhstan into the Caspian. 

Evacuation order 

Sirens in Kurgan, a city on the Tobol River, a tributary of the Irtysh, warned people to evacuate immediately. Regional officials said floodwaters would continue to rise for three days and predicted a “difficult situation” until the end of April. 

A state of emergency was also declared in Tyumen, a major oil-producing region of Western Siberia, the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world. Russian news agencies said Emergencies Minister Alexander Kurenkov had arrived in the city as part of a regional tour assessing flood danger. 

“The difficult days are still ahead for the Kurgan and Tyumen regions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “There is a lot of water coming.” 

Tyumen is about 200 kilometers (124.27 miles) north of Kurgan. 

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

The most severely hit areas are 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. 

Russians beg for help

In Russia, anger boiled over in Orsk when at least 100 Russians begged the Kremlin chief for help and chanted “shame on you” at local officials who they said had done too little. 

The Kremlin said Putin was being updated on the situation but had no immediate plans to visit the flood zone as local and emergency officials were doing their best to tackle the deluge.  

In Kurgan, a region with 800,000 residents, drone footage showed traditional Russian wooden houses and the golden kupolas of Orthodox Churches stranded alongside an expanse of water.  

Russian officials have said some people ignored calls to evacuate. Kurgan Governor Vadim Shumkov urged residents to take the warnings seriously. 

“We understand you very well: It is hard to leave your possessions and move somewhere at the call of the local authorities,” Shumkov said. “It’s better that we laugh at the hydrologists together later and praise God for the miracle of our common salvation. But let’s do it alive.” 

In Kurgan, water levels were rising in the Tobol. Russia said 19,000 people were at risk in the region.  

Rising waters were also forecast in Siberia’s Ishim River, also a tributary of the Irtysh, which along with its parent, the Ob, forms the world’s seventh-longest river system. 

It was not immediately clear why this year’s floods were so severe as the snow melt is an annual event in Russia. Scientists say climate change has made flooding more frequent worldwide. 

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