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Siberian Flood Begins to Subside

May 22, 2001

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YAKUTSK, Russia (AP) _ Workers used icebreakers and explosives Tuesday to destroy two ice floes _ one 18 miles long _ jamming the swollen Lena River, trying to ease flooding that has killed at least five people in the Siberian region.

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, said Tatyana Tarasova, a spokeswoman for the regional government.

In Lensk, a town about 500 miles to the southwest, about 14,000 people were left homeless, state television reported, after flooding from the Lena last week washed away 1,800 dwellings. Emergency officials were erecting tent camps, and residents lined up for bread, drinking water and hot meals at soup kitchens.

Five residents were killed and two were unaccounted for in Lensk, a town of 26,000, said Marina Ryklina, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry.

The Lensk oil reservoir was also flooded, spilling approximately 5,000 tons of diesel fuel and gasoline into the river, the Interfax news agency reported. And Russia’s energy monopoly, UES, said 180 miles of power lines were damaged when an electric substation in Lensk was flooded.

Icebreakers and explosives were used to break up an 18-mile-long ice jam along with a small one that have been clogging up the river downstream from Yakutsk. Tarasova said that after they were cleared, the water level fell 15 inches from its peak Tuesday morning of 30 feet.

In Yakutsk, a city of 200,000 people about 3,000 miles east of Moscow, authorities have opened 35 evacuation centers. But many preferred to wait out the flood in attics and on roofs to protect their property against looting.

In one outlying district, where the water lapped the windows of one-story wooden houses, the mood was almost festive, as people huddled in boats and drank vodka.

Siberia’s northward flowing rivers flood regularly. Water flowing from the south, where the spring thaw comes earlier, runs into blocks of ice that have not yet melted in the north.

But local officials were apparently taken by surprise by the intensity of this year’s deluge, which experts said was caused by a combination an unusually cold winter and a warm spring.

``What happened this year is basically what you would expect to see every 100 years,″ said Lev Kuchment of the Institute for Water Problems in Moscow. ``This is a fairly usual event.″

Meanwhile, a powerful windstorm hit the Perm region in the Ural Mountains on Tuesday evening, killing two people and downing power lines, ITAR-Tass and Interfax said.

Update hourly