Siberian flood begins to subside after ice smashed


The water level of the flooded Lena River reached a record high in this Siberian city Tuesday, but began ebbing after emergency workers destroyed two ice jams blocking the river’s flow.

Meanwhile, officials announced that flooding in the region, about 4,800 kilometers (3,000 miles) east of Moscow, had killed five people and left two others missing.

One woman had been reported drowned last week in Lensk, a town of 26,000 where 1,800 dwellings were washed away, according to the Emergency Situations Ministry.

Ministry spokeswoman Marina Ryklina confirmed on Tuesday that according to the latest information from local officials, five residents had been killed and two were unaccounted for.

Adding to the damage, the Lensk oil reservoir was flooded, spilling approximately 5,000 tons of diesel fuel and gasoline into the Lena, the Interfax news agency reported.

In Yakutsk, the regional capital with a population of 200,000, outlying districts were inundated and the flood threatened to encroach on the city center, said Tatyana Tarasova, a spokeswoman for the regional government.

She said the water level had fallen by about 38 centimeters (one foot three inches) from its peak Tuesday morning, but that it was still higher than it had been in previous years.

Tarasova said the water level fell after emergency workers using icebreakers and bombs destroyed two ice jams — one of which was 30 kilometers (18 miles) long — that had been clogging the river downstream from Yakutsk.

City authorities have opened 35 evacuation centers with capacity for 20,000 people, but many preferred to wait out the flood in attics and on roofs to protect their property against marauders.

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. Some of them asked workers dumping sand on dikes to stop, saying they were enjoying the adventure.

In Lensk, the town that was flooded last week, the mood was more somber. About 14,000 people were left homeless, state television reported. Emergency officials were erecting tent camps, and residents lined up for bread, drinking water and hot meals at soup kitchens.