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The BBC's Christen Thomson
"There's chaos behind the scenes"
 real 56k

Friday, 18 May, 2001, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Floods engulf Siberian town
Lensk, eastern Siberia
Almost all of Lensk's population has been evacuated
Emergency teams in the Siberian town of Lensk are renewing efforts to rescue residents stranded on their rooftops by heavy flooding.


I am speaking to you by the only telephone still working here

Emergencies Minister
Russian aircraft have again been bombing ice floes which have been blocking the flow of water on the River Lena, causing it to burst its banks.

But flood waters rose overnight on Thursday in the town of Lensk, in the Yakutia region.

And now there are fears that the regional capital, Yakutsk, could flood too.

Fears of looting

Some 98% of Lensk, whose population is just under 30,000, is completely covered by water, with electricity and phone lines cut.

Although thousands of residents have already been evacuated, many others stayed on, fearing their property would be looted.

Flood on outskirts of Ufa, Bashkortostan
European Russia has been affected as well
Some have taken refuge in the upper floors of their homes, while others are camped out on roofs waiting for helicopters to winch them to safety.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry is reported as saying early on Friday that the River Lena had now risen to six metres above its critical level - and is rising at a rate of three centimetres an hour.

The ministry has ordered six heavy transport planes carrying food, camp stoves and tents to be dispatched to Yakutia to set up a tent city for the evacuees, the Itar-Tass news agency reports.

Planes and helicopters continued bombing the ice that is blocking the River Lena through the night - some reports say the ice has begun to move, but that has not stopped the floods.

Russian media on Thursday quoted weather reports as saying that water levels in Lensk would continue to rise over the next 48 hours.

Warning

The severe spring flooding, an annual occurrence in Russia, has left almost 5,000 homes under water in 32 towns and villages from the Volga river in European Russia to the Far East.

The situation remains particularly severe in Kirensk, in Irkutsk region, where nearly 2,000 homes are flooded.

The Russian authorities frequently use explosives to dislodge stationary ice and prevent the build-up of excess water upriver.

There were warnings earlier this year that Siberia and the Russian Far East could be affected by floods following one of the harshest winters on record, when temperatures plunged to -50C.

The Russian authorities say the situation will remain tense for the next few days.

More rain is forecast and a fresh flood wave is expected from another Lena tributary.

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