Russians mourn victims of flash floods
THE RUSSIAN government has blamed local officials for not warning people in time about floods in the south of the country that have claimed at least 171 lives.
Almost two dozen people are still missing after floods devastated the Black Sea town of Krymsk on Friday night, swamping 5,000 homes and leaving 30,000 without gas or electricity. Nearby resorts of Gelendzhik and Novorossiysk were also hit.
This is the first major disaster since Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency in May and will test his government, as anger pours out across the internet over the authorities’ failure to warn people in time.
On a day of national mourning yesterday, Russia’s emergencies minister Vladimir Puchkov acknowledged that “not all the population were warned in time” despite systems intended to alert people.
Two local officials, the head of the Krysmsky region and his deputy, have been sacked and a criminal investigation is under way.
Just Russia, a small opposition party in the Russian Parliament, has called for a debate in the Duma about the response of the local authorities.
“It has been shown that the leadership of the region received a warning about the threat of flooding at least three hours before it started,” said the governor of the stricken Krasnodar region, Alexander Tkachev. “Many residents of Krymsk told me that they never received any warning.”
As flood waters receded, state weather forecasters pinpointed the causes of the disaster as abnormally heavy rains that had swept across the region, dumping five times the average monthly rainfall.
While state television concentrated on the relief effort and policemen apprehending muddy looters, independent media aired local residents’ complaints about a lack of warning and the slow arrival of help, if at all.
Many local residents believe the flood was magnified by the opening of sluice gates at a nearby reservoir in an attempt to save the town of Novorossiysk, where President Putin is said to own a property.
“It was clearly water from the Neberdzhavskii reservoir, the flow came from the side where it is located,” said local man Aleksander Vetrov who escaped the floods by climbing on the roof. “A coincidence? Maybe, but it is hard to believe.”
“Of course they decided to open the floodgates! But although they let Krimsk drown they still didn’t save Novorossiysk,” wrote Yulia Andropova on the social network site Vkontake.
“Why didn’t they send the police to warn people? Why didn’t they turn on the sirens to wake people up?! Now there are no shops, there is no food, no electricity, the city is blocked, although there is no Krymsk, really, just ruins.”
Ms Andropova wrote that her father, who worked at the reservoir, told her the sluice gates had been opened. The removal of her profile from the site caused an outcry on the Russian blogosphere and her story, which is impossible to verify, was republished hundreds of times.
“It is obvious that this tragedy had natural causes,” said Mr Tkachev. “All other versions about the lowering of the reservoir are nonsense.”
Some independent bloggers agreed the reservoir was not a factor, but the suspicion and fury underscores the lack of trust Russians have in the authorities after years of sinking ships, crashing aircraft and exploding coal mines.
Yesterday Russia was also mourning 14 pilgrims who lost their lives in a bus crash on Saturday in Ukraine.