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Russia floods: waters rising in two cities and thousands evacuated after dam bursts

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.

The Ural River, which rises in the Ural Mountains and flows into the Caspian Sea, swelled several metres in just hours on Friday and burst through a dam embankment in Orsk – one of the hardest-hit cities – 1,800km (1,100 miles) east of Moscow.

More than 4,000 people, including 885 children, were evacuated in Orsk as swathes of the city of 230,000 in the Orenburg region were flooded. Footage published by the emergencies ministry showed people wading through neck-high waters, rescuing stranded dogs and travelling along flooded roads in boats and canoes.

State news agency Tass reported that six adults and three children had been hospitalised in Orsk but their condition was not life-threatening.

The Russian government declared a federal emergency in Orenburg, where the regional governor, Denis Pasler, said the floods were the worst to hit the region since records began. Flooding had been recorded along the entire course of the 2,400km (1,500-mile) Ural River.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the 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 phone, the Kremlin said.

Some of the worst floods in decades have hit a string of Russian regions in the Ural Mountains and Siberia, alongside parts of neighbouring Kazakhstan, in recent days.

Footage from Orsk and Orenburg showed water covering the streets, dotted with one-story houses.

In Kurgan city, which has a population of 310,000, authorities ordered residents of one riverside neighbourhood to evacuate urgently, saying flood waters would soon arrive in the city.

Russian media cited Orenburg region authorities as estimating the cost of flood damage locally as around 21bn roubles ($227m) and saying that flood waters would dissipate only after 20 April.

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

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.

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

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

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 4.5m tons of oil.

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.

The North Korea leader, Kim Jong-un, expressed sympathy to Putin about the flood, state media KCNA said, underscoring stronger ties between Moscow and Pyongyang after the leaders met last year.

“Our people will always be with the Russian people,” Kim said.

The Associated Press contributed reporting


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