Russian city ready for mass evacuation if flooding worsens
More than 23,000 have already been evacuated from three regions along Chinese border as Khabarovsk prepares for similar fate
Alec Luhn, Moscow
theguardian.com, Wednesday 21 August 2013 12.47 EDT
Russian authorities are preparing to evacuate the far eastern city of Khabarovsk amid the worst flooding in over a century, following president Vladimir Putin's warnings not to allow a repeat of flooding last summer that killed 170 people.
Already, more than 23,000 people have been evacuated from the three regions along the Chinese border the Khabarovsk Territory, Jewish Autonomous Region and the Amur Region affected by heavy rains and flooding, state news agency RIA-Novosti reported on Wednesday , and the authorities and residents continue to build protective dams and temporary shelters.
The mayor of Khabarovsk, a regional centre of almost 600,000 people, said there would be a "mass evacuation" if the water level of the Amur river reaches 7.8m above normal, which experts predict will happen as early as 24 August amid continuing rain. However, an emergency ministry spokeswoman said later that no mass evacuation of Khabarovsk was planned, since only low-lying areas would be flooded.
Putin has made it clear that officials should avoid repeating the mistakes of local authorities in the southern city of Krymsk, where more than 170 people died in a flash flood last year. As if to underscore this point, four Krymsk officials were convicted of criminal negligence on Monday for failing to warn residents in time.
At a meeting over the disaster on Saturday, Putin told governors of affected regions to handle the flood response personally, and last week he sent the minister of energy and the head of the state hydroelectricity company RusHydro, which has allocated 100 million rubles to compensate the victims, to flood-battered Blagoveshchensk in the Amur region. Russian Orthodox Church officials have even brought religious icons into flooded areas by helicopter.
An official from the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring tied the flooding to global climate change, saying "we need to get used to a new reality," the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported on Wednesday .
Russian newspapers were full of stories of residents who refused to evacuate, as well as one dog in the Amur region who swam back to guard the flooded family home until his owners returned. The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported on Wednesday that residents of villages in the Jewish Autonomous Region were living in the attics of flooded homes, comparing the situation to the Kevin Kostner film Waterworld. Authorities in the region have detained people with criminal records and others "inclined to theft" after eight were arrested for looting, and police have temporarily confiscated weapons and banned the sale of alcohol in the disaster zone.
Heavy rains killed 21 construction workers on Tuesday in the Chinese city of Haixi across the border from Blagoveshchensk as the number of dead or missing in China increased to more than 200.