Page last updated at 15:24 GMT, Friday, 20 May 2005 16:24 UK

Vanishing lake baffles Russians

The hole left by the disappeared lake
There have long been rumours about the lake

Residents of a village in central Russia are trying to solve the mystery of a lake that disappeared overnight.

Russia's NTV channel showed a huge, muddy basin where the lake once was, in the village of Bolotnikovo.

"It looks like somebody has pulled the plug out of a gigantic bath," said the TV's correspondent, next to a deep debris-filled hole.

Local officials in Nizhny Novgorod region say the lake was probably sucked into an underground cave.

The name of the village - which lies about 250 km (155 miles) east of Moscow - roughly translates as "boggy".

No water

The discovery was made by local fishermen when they arrived at the lake early in the morning.

"I looked and there was no water. I thought: Oh my God, what's going on?" one of them told the TV.

Rescuers were called out to search the uncovered lake bed to see if anybody could have been sucked under, but it is thought no-one was on the lake when the waters vanished.

"It's very dangerous. If somebody is caught by such a calamity, the chances of survival are practically nil," fireman Dmitry Zaitsev said, pointing out that lakeside trees appeared to have been dragged down with the water.

The lake's disappearance may have been caused by subsidence allowing the water to drain into a cave system or underground river, local official Dmitry Klyuev said.

According to Mr Klyuev, several houses were swallowed up in similar circumstances 70 years ago.

'Dark mystery'

But more supernatural explanations were circulating among the villagers, including the influence of dark forces.

Village youngsters said the lake had appeared during the reign of the feared Tsar Ivan the Terrible and had been "shrouded in dark mystery" ever since.

"We used to go swimming there, but we were rather afraid of its depth, and there were various rumours. For instance people said there used to be a church there underwater," one girl told the TV.

But one elderly villager sitting outside her house had another kind of force in mind.

"I thought the Americans had got here," she said, laughing.

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