Record flooding hits Russia, Kazakhstan

A satellite view shows flooding in Orenburg, Russia. Photo: Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
A satellite view shows flooding in Orenburg, Russia. Photo: Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
Floods are gripping cities and towns across Russia and Kazakhstan after Europe's third-longest river burst its banks, forcing over 100,000 people to evacuate and swamping parts of the Russian city of Orenburg.

The deluge of melt water overwhelmed scores of settlements in Russia's Ural Mountains, Siberia, Volga and areas of Kazakhstan after major rivers such as the Ural, which flows into the Caspian, rose more 66 centimetres (2.17 ft) beyond its bursting point.

In Orenburg, a city with a population of 550,000 about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow, hundreds of homes were flooded and at least 7,700 people were evacuated as the Ural river rose swiftly beyond the critical level of 9.3 metres (30 feet).

"The water level in the Ural is rising," said Alexei Kudinov, the first deputy head of Orenburg. Reuters footage showed swathes of areas near the city under water.

Sirens and special television announcements ordered residents in the flood zones to evacuate, though some people decided to stay and were shown remaining in the attics of their houses.

The flood situation was acute in parts of Western Siberia, the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world, where the peak is expected in three to five days, and some areas around the Volga, Europe's largest river, the emergencies ministry said.

Residents in Orenburg said it was the worst flooding in living memory while Russian officials said it was the worst flooding in the area since record began. Kazakhstan said 96,000 people had been evacuated.

Russia said 10,500 houses were flooded across 37 regions, most in the Orenburg region. Upstream on the Ural, which flows into Kazakhstan, floodwaters burst through an embankment dam in the city of Orsk on Friday.

Rescue workers search homes in Orsk. Photo: RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF EMERGENCY SITUATIONS
Rescue workers search homes in Orsk. Photo: RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF EMERGENCY SITUATIONS
In Kazakhstan, people worked through the night to build up dykes and strengthen embankments.

Pope Francis expressed his sympathy for the victims of the floods.

"I also want to convey to the people of Kazakhstan my spiritual closeness at this time, when a massive flood has affected many regions of the country and caused the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes," Pope Francis said during his Wednesday weekly audience in St Peter's Square.

"I invite everyone to pray for all those who are suffering the effects of this natural disaster."


Spring flooding is a usual part of life across Russia as the harsh winter snows melt, swelling some of mighty rivers of Russia and Central Asia. This year, though, a combination of factors triggered unusually severe flooding.

Russian emergency officials said the soil was waterlogged before winter and then was frozen under very high snow falls which then melted very fast in swiftly rising spring temperatures and heavy rains.

One Russian official, the Presidential Plenipotentiary in the Urals Region, Vladimir Yakushev, was quoted by Russian media as suggesting that Kazakhstan was to blame for not coordinating the discharge of water more effectively.

President Vladimir Putin spoke to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan about the floods on Tuesday. The Kremlin said the worst was still to come for the Siberian region of Tyumen and the Urals region of Kurgan.

The Kremlin said Putin was getting updated on the situation but had no immediate plans to visit the flood zone as local and emergency officials were doing their best to tackle the deluge.

Sirens in Kurgan, a city on the Tobol river, a tributary of the Irtysh, warned people to evacuate immediately.

Local authorities said they had closed several roads to traffic to quickly deliver soil to strengthen a dam there as water levels in the Tobol River quickly rose 23 centimetres (9 inches). The governor of the Kurgan region said 4,500 people had been evacuated from their homes in the province.