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Water levels rise and homes flood in Russia after a dam bursts near the Kazakhstan border

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LA Post: Water levels rise and homes flood in Russia after a dam bursts near the Kazakhstan border
April 10, 2024
The Associated Press - AP

Russian officials scrambled to help homeowners displaced by floods as water levels rose in the Ural River, authorities said Wednesday.

Floods in the Orenburg region near Russia's border with Kazakhstan sparked the evacuation of thousands of people following the collapse of a dam on Saturday. Russia’s government has declared the situation a federal emergency. Although President Vladimir Putin is frequently shown on Russian state television meeting officials and traveling across the country, the Kremlin said he is not yet planning to visit the flood-hit region.

The river's water level in the city of Orenburg was above 10 meters (almost 33 feet) Wednesday, state news agency Ria Novosti reported, citing the regional governor. Photos shared by Russian news outlets showed roads covered in water, submerged fields and partially submerged houses.

The water was approaching high-rise buildings, Ria Novosti said, and more than 300 homes were flooded overnight, according to state news agency Tass.

People in the city of Orsk gathered in a rare protest Monday, calling for compensation after their homes were damaged. Protests are unusual in Russia, where authorities have consistently cracked down on any form of dissent following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the administrative building in Orsk on Monday, and videos posted on Russian social media showed people chanting “Putin, help us!” and “Shame!”

Other videos on social media showed angry Russians refusing to leave the areas near their homes because they said thieves were looting abandoned houses with boats.

The floods prompted the Orsk oil refinery to suspend operations, Interfax said.

The floods had forced over 4,000 people, including 885 children, to evacuate in the Orenburg region, the regional government said Sunday. Tass said Monday that around 10,000 homes, including some 7,000 in Orsk, were flooded.

Following the protest, Tass reported that the governor of the Orenburg region, Denis Pasler, promised compensation payments to those affected, including 10,000 rubles ($108) a month for six months to people forced out of their homes by the floods.

The total damage from the floods in the region is estimated at about 21 billion rubles ($227 million), the regional government said Sunday.

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 Sunday, the level in Orsk reached 9.7 meters (31.82 feet), according to Russia’s water level information site AllRivers.

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

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