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Putin Sends Russian Troops to Aid Flood Victims in Chechnya, North Caucasus - 2002-06-22

At least 28 people are dead and thousands have been evacuated from their homes in the wake of heavy flooding in southern Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to use all troops based in the breakaway region of Chechnya and the North Caucasus to help the flood victims.

The Russian president met Saturday morning with members of his Cabinet to discuss the flooding, which has devastated the region.

He also talked with Emergencies Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was sent to the north Caucasus to assess the situation.

Almost 20,000 people have been affected as a result of the flooding, which is concentrated in Russia's north Caucasus region.

The heavy rain has caused numerous rivers to overflow, sweeping away bridges, cars and power lines and blocking sewage pipes.

Thousands of people have been trapped in small mountain villages, and are unable to get help or to escape. In some areas, officials are trying to rescue local residents by helicopter.

Many of those who died were killed by exposure to cold water and heart attacks, or by collapsing buildings and bridges. The region has seen an unusually heavy amount of rain in the last two days, and Russian television is reporting that the rains are expected to continue.

The affected region includes the breakaway republic of Chechnya, where Russian troops have been fighting Chechen separatists.

The military conflict there has already strained the resources of many of the surrounding areas that are now undergoing the heavy flooding.