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Siberian Floodwaters Pass Yakutsk

May 23, 2001

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YAKUTSK, Russia (AP) _ Floodwaters from the Lena River surged past Siberia’s biggest city Wednesday, allowing local authorities and residents to catch their breath and assess the damage.

But emergency workers using icebreakers and explosives were unable to destroy all the ice jams clogging the river and the rising waters still posed a threat to villages downstream.

``There are still very many jams,″ said Tatyana Tarasova, a spokeswoman for the regional government. ``It’s going to keep flooding and flooding.″

Earlier this week, workers dumped loads of sand to reinforce dikes around the regional capital Yakutsk as the river’s level rose to a record 30 feet and floodwaters threatened to encroach on the city center.

By Wednesday, the Lena’s water level in Yakutsk, about 3,000 miles east of Moscow, had subsided to below the critical point, said Tarasova and for the most part the danger there was over.

The flood that ravaged Lensk, a town about 500 miles to the southwest, before invading some outlying neighborhoods in Yakutsk has killed six people and left two missing, Tarasova said.

A federal commission was in the area to assess the damage and the amount of aid the region would need, she said. Some 4,000 houses will need to be rebuilt.

Residents of the flooded districts on Yakutsk outskirts were also counting their losses Wednesday.

A man who gave only his first name, Nikolai, surveyed the damage to his property from a boat, as his wife looked on from an attic window and his dog barked from the roof.

He said he was not counting on the government’s assistance to repair his one-story house, half submerged in the brown water.

The flood was far from a surprise to him and his neighbors, he said.

``This happens to us every year. We’re used to it,″ he shrugged.

Siberian rivers flood regularly because they flow from south to north. The snow that melts in the south, where the spring thaw begins earlier, runs into ice in the still chilly north.

But this year an unusually cold winter and a warm spring combined to create a huge deluge, the likes of which authorities haven’t seen in Siberia for 100 years.

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