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Flooding spreads in Russia, putting thousands more at risk

People row a boat in a flooded street in Orenburg, Russia, in this still image taken from video released, April 8, 2024.
People row a boat in a flooded street in Orenburg, Russia, in this still image taken from video released, April 8, 2024.

Flood sirens blared out in two Russian cities on Tuesday, warning thousands more people to evacuate immediately as two major rivers swelled to bursting point in some of the worst flooding in at least 70 years.

Swiftly melting snow across swathes of the Ural Mountains and Siberia has swelled some of the biggest rivers which surge across the wilds of Russia, with at least 10,500 homes recorded as flooded so far and many thousands more at risk.

The Ural River, Europe's third largest which flows into the Caspian, burst through an embankment dam on Friday flooding the city of Orsk just south of the Ural Mountains. Downstream, water levels in Orenburg, a city of around 550,000, were rising.

Sirens in Kurgan, a city on the Tobol river, a tributary of the Irtysh, warned people to evacuate immediately and 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, adding that those demanding to stay in their houses were foolish.

"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."

The peak is expected in Orenburg on Wednesday.

President Vladimir Putin has been monitoring the floods from Moscow but anger boiled over in Orsk when at least 100 Russians begged the Kremlin chief to help and chanted "shame on you" at local officials who they said had done too little.

With so much water flowing into rivers, emergencies were declared in Orenburg, Kurgan and Tyumen, a major oil producing region of Western Siberia - the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world.

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

In Zverinogolovskoye, a town in Kurgan region, the water levels of the Tobol rose 74 centimeters in just two hours. More than 19,000 people are risk in Kurgan, the TASS news agency reported.

The head of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, Alexander Kurenkov, flew to Orenburg region on Tuesday to monitor the situation after being tasked to do so by Putin, the ministry said.

Kurenkov will also visit the Kurgan and Tyumen regions in the Urals, the ministry added.

"Preventive measures are already being taken there, rescue teams have been strengthened, and the forces and means of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations have been put on high alert," the ministry said.

Rising water was also forecast in Siberia's Ishim river, a tributary of the Irtysh river, 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 bad as the snow melt is an annual event in Russia. Scientists say climate change has made flooding more frequent worldwide.

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