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Siberia Swamped By Worst Floods in 100 Years

Floods Racing Down Siberian Rivers Worst in 100 Years

YAKUTSK, Russia, May 21, 2001 (ENS) - Two people are dead and thousands have been evacuated from towns in Eastern Siberia as a massive snow melt in the Sayany Mountains has resulted in the worst spring flooding in a century.

Explosives and bombs are being used to break apart huge chunks of ice jamming the Siberian rivers and causing them to flood. Helicopters are rescuing hundreds of people trapped on their rooftops by the rising waters.

A wave over one meter (39 inches) high is rolling down the Lena River toward the gold and diamond mining city of Yakutsk. Media reports say the flooding could hit Yakutsk sometime within the next 24 hours.

Meltwaters from ice and snow built up during Russia's harshest winter in 50 years, has submerged the town of Lensk, 840 kilometers (525 miles) southeast of Yakutsk.

Local authorities initial estimates indicate that more than 150,000 people have been affected.

People who have been evacuated are being accomodated in temporary camps in safe areas or brought to the capital city of Yakutsk.

President Vladimir Putin went on national television to ask for calm in one of the worst natural disasters since he took office just over a year ago. Putin told the nation a team is in place that can handle whatever happens.

"The consequences are serious." Putin said. "We will have to put measures into effect to help people and rebuild their houses."

More than 12,000 people are assisting in rescue and emergency operations. In many towns electricity, heating and water supply systems are out of commission and temperatures at night often go down below zero.

Those affected are being supplied with food and medical care by the Yakutsk Red Cross working on an emergency basis with the Republican Disasters Centre. Some 13 tons of humanitarian aid including food, medicines, hygiene kits, blankets and pillows have been delivered by the Yakutia Red Cross on EMERCOM helicopters. Much of the flooding has occurred in rural areas in the sparsely populated region, making the delivery of assistance to these areas difficult.

According to the Emergencies Ministry of the Russian Federation, the level of water in the Lena River near Lensk reached a level of 19.5 meters by Friday, six meters above the critical point. Despite the government efforts to stem the flooding, the water continues to rise, placing more people at risk.

Local officials could not assess the extent of the damage done by the floods but said the river fleet has been totally destroyed and the reoccupation of hundreds of buildings eroded by the water was in doubt.

The Lena, one of the Arctic's major rivers, is one of the longest rivers in the world. It flows northward for 4,400 kilometers (2,730 miles) from its headwaters near Lake Baikal and empties into the Laptev Sea.