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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
The Lena's trail of devastation
Map of Siberia and the Russian far east
While the city of Yakutsk appears to have escaped the worst of Siberia's floods, the river Lena has already caused devastation in eastern Siberia.


The only way you can transport things is by the river, which is not accessible

Grazyna Samsel, Red Cross
In an appeal to the outside world for help, the leader of the Yakutia region, Vasily Vlasov, describes the inundation as the worst for 100 years.

The Red Cross says that so far 99 villages and over 55,000 people have been evacuated - and evacutations are still going on. It estimates that around half of Yakutia's 1m population may have been affected.

In Yakutsk - the capital of the remote Siberian region, which is almost the size of India - a state of emergency is still in effect as people battle to keep the waters at bay by shoring up dykes and dams against the river.

Second river

Aid agencies are also concerned that another of the great Siberian rivers, the Yenisei, could burst into flood, causing a major regional disaster.

Goat rescued from floods of river Lena
A saved goat: Large numbers of livestock have died
The Red Cross has been delivering aid to both Yakutia, and the Irkutsk region, further south, where evacuations have taken place from the towns of Ust-Kut and Kirensk.

So far the worst affected town in Yakutia is Lensk, a river port which serves as the main supply point for Yakutia's crucial diamond mines.

Mr Vlasov said the towns of Olekminsk and Khandyga had also been flooded, and that thousands of hectares of fertile land had been washed away.

Brief summer

The Red Cross, which is already providing immediate aid to the most vulnerable, hopes to launch an international appeal later this week.


It is already clear that the efforts undertaken will be altogether insufficient

Vasily Vlasov, Yakutia Government chairman
The remoteness and the lack of communications have already caused problems simply planning the intended aid operation and obtaining information, says spokeswoman Grazyna Samsel.

Mr Vlasov, in his appeal, warns that the Siberian summer is short, and that there are huge problems that need to be addressed before the severe winter arrives.

"In the situation that has developed, the leadership of the republic and local authorities are taking extreme measures, with the support of the Ministry for Emergencies... But it is already clear that the efforts undertaken will be altogether insufficient," he says.

Of the thousands of inundated homes, many may not be fit for reoccupation, the Red Cross warns.

In Lensk, 3,000 homes have been destroyed. Even if all the local resources available were put into rebuilding, only 400 homes could be built by the winter, says Jeff Miles of the Russian Red Cross delegation.

He says his organisation will only be able to assess the extent of the damage when the Lena becomes navigable again in mid-July and they can begin a 3,500km barge journey to reach the affected area.

For many villages, the river is the only access with the outside world and the floods have cut them off completely.

Power stations, the electricity transmission grid and boilers will need to be restored.

So will roads, bridges and dams - and by September Yakutsk will again be in the grip of sub-zero temperatures.

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