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The BBC's Alastair Leithead
"The river has reached a critical level"
 real 56k

Monday, 21 May, 2001, 04:36 GMT 05:36 UK
Thousands flee Siberia floods
Yakutsk under water
The region is suffering Russia's worst floods in a century
Thousands of people have been evacuated from a flood-hit suburb of the Siberian city of Yakutsk, as the region's main river threatens to engulf the town.

The town's inhabitants have been desperately stocking up on food and building sand barricades as the River Lena reaches critical levels.

At least 3,500 people were evacuated on Sunday from the suburbs to the town centre, which is several metres higher than the flood mark, although some would not leave.

Perched on their roofs and surrounded by water, they refuse to abandon their houses, saying that they fear looters.

Siege mentality

One elderly woman chained herself to her bed to resist evacuation, but was removed by helicopter along with her bed, according to Russian television.

The Yakutia region is suffering Russia's worst floods in 100 years, although the town which was evacuated last week - Lensk - is now free from floodwater.

Children in Lensk
Children in Lensk tackle a huge block of ice that floated into their house

The seasonal flooding was exacerbated by a build up of ice blocks on the River Lena, which caused it to burst its banks.

The Russian military has bombed the ice floe in an attempt to dissipate the pent-up water.

Shops have been emptied of staples and the rush on drinking water meant that the price of a five-litre bottle doubled over 48 hours, according to AFP news agency.

Fatality


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.

There has been one fatality. In Lensk, a 70-year-old woman drowned when she and her husband tried to escape in a boat.

Some 2,000 people have been left homeless in Lensk, and the Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted the head of the local government, Vasily Vlasov, as saying that the town would probably have to be rebuilt elsewhere, such was the scale of the devastation.

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 -50 Celsius.

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18 May 01 | Europe
Siberia flood rescue gathers pace
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In pictures: Siberian floods
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