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Russia declares flood-hit Orenburg 'federal emergency;' other regions under threat


People use rubber boats in a flooded street in Orsk, Orenburg region, Russia, April 7, 2024. (Anatoly Zhdanov/Kommersant Publishing House via AP)
People use rubber boats in a flooded street in Orsk, Orenburg region, Russia, April 7, 2024. (Anatoly Zhdanov/Kommersant Publishing House via AP)

Russia’s government declared the situation in flood-hit areas in the Orenburg region a federal emergency Sunday, with preparations for possible flooding underway in three other regions, state media reported.

The floods, caused by rising water levels in the Ural River, forced over 4,000 people, including 885 children, to evacuate in the Orenburg region, the regional government said. State news agency Tass said that a further 2,000 homes were flooded, bringing the total to nearly 6,300 in the region.

The total damage from the flood in the Orenburg region is estimated to amount to around 21 billion rubles ($227 million), the regional government said Sunday.

Russia’s Emergency Situations Minister Alexander Kurenkov arrived in Orsk — one of the most hard-hit cities — Sunday to supervise rescue operations.

“I propose classifying the situation in the Orenburg region as a federal emergency and establishing a federal level of response,” the minister said, according to RIA Novosti. The move means federal assistance and coordination can supplement state and local efforts.

Orsk, less than 20 kilometers (less than 13 miles) north of the border with Kazakhstan, suffered the brunt of the floods that caused a dam to break Friday, according to Orsk Mayor Vasily Kozupitsa.

By Sunday morning, 4,500 residential buildings in the city of 200,000 were flooded and evacuation efforts were still ongoing, Tass said.

A criminal probe has been launched to investigate suspected construction violations that may have caused the dam to break. Local authorities said the dam could withstand water levels up to 5.5 meters (nearly 18 feet). On Saturday morning, the water level reached about 9.3 meters (30.51 feet) and rising, Kozupitsa said. On Sunday, the level in Orsk reached 9.7 meters (31.82 feet), according to Russia's water level information site AllRivers.

Authorities in Orsk reported that four people had died, but said their deaths were unrelated to the flooding.

Officials in the regional capital, also called Orenburg, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) away from Orsk, wrote on Telegram Sunday that the situation in the city was getting worse, as water levels increased by 28 centimeters (11 inches) compared with the previous day. Over 1,300 homes flooded and 428 people were evacuated, they said.
Footage from Orsk and Orenburg showed water covering the streets dotted with single-story houses.

The designation of the situation as a federal emergency reflects the risk of flooding beyond the Orenburg region. Russia's Ministry for Emergency Situations evacuated around 820 people in the neighboring Samara region, the ministry's regional directorate said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken with Kurenkov, as well as the heads of the Kurgan and Tyumen regions, located in the Ural Mountains area, to discuss the situation and “the need ... for early adoption of measures to assist people and their possible evacuation.”

Preventative evacuation began Sunday in two districts of the Kurgan region, the regional department of Emergency Situations Ministry wrote on Telegram.

The Ural River, about 2,428 kilometers (1,509 miles) long, flows from the southern section of the Urals into the north end of the Caspian Sea, through Russia and Kazakhstan.