International

Russians Stage Rare Protest After Dam Bursts, Flooding Homes Near Kazakh Border

Protests are an unusual sight in Russia where authorities have consistently cracked down on any form of dissent following President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

AP
The floods, caused by rising water levels in the Ural River, forced over 4,000 people, including 885 children, to evacuate the Orenburg region Photo: AP
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The Russians in the city of Orsk gathered in a rare protest Monday, calling for compensation following the collapse of a dam and subsequent flooding in the Orenburg region near the border with Kazakhstan.

Protests are an unusual sight in Russia where authorities have consistently cracked down on any form of dissent following President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Hundreds of people gathered in front of the administrative building in Orsk Monday, Russian state news agency Tass said, while videos shared on Russian social media channels showed people chanting “Putin, help us,” and “shame.”

The floods, caused by rising water levels in the Ural River, forced over 4,000 people, including 885 children, to evacuate the Orenburg region, the regional government said Sunday. Tass said Monday that around 10,000 homes, including some 7,000 in Orsk, were flooded in the region and that floodwaters in the city are continuing to rise. Footage from Orsk and Orenburg showed water partially submerging buildings, including homes, as well as nearby fields.

Russia's government declared the situation in flood-hit areas of Orenburg a federal emergency on Sunday, with preparations for possible flooding underway in three other regions, state media reported.

Following the protest, Tass reported that the governor of the Orenburg region, Denis Pasler, promised compensation payments of 10,000 rubles a month (approximately $108) for six months to people forced out of their homes by the flood.

The total damage from the flood in the region is estimated at about 21 billion rubles ($227 million), the regional government said Sunday.

Orsk, less than 20 kilometers (less than 13 miles) north of the border with Kazakhstan, suffered the brunt of the floods that caused a dam to break on Friday, according to Orsk Mayor Vasily Kozupitsa.

A criminal probe has been launched to investigate suspected construction violations that may have caused the dam to break. Local authorities said the dam could withstand water levels up to 5.5 meters (nearly 18 feet). On Saturday morning, the water level reached about 9.3 meters (30.51 feet) and rising, Kozupitsa said. On Sunday, the level in Orsk reached 9.7 meters (31.82 feet), according to Russia's water level information site AllRivers.

Authorities in Orsk reported that four people had died, but said their deaths were unrelated to the flooding.

The designation of the situation as a federal emergency reflects the risk of flooding beyond the Orenburg region.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken with the head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, as well as the heads of the Kurgan and Tyumen regions, located in the Ural Mountains area, to discuss the situation and “the need ... for early adoption of measures to assist people and their possible evacuation.”

The Ural River, about 2,428 kilometers (1,509 miles) long, flows from the southern section of the Ural Mountains into the north end of the Caspian Sea, through Russia and Kazakhstan.

Meanwhile in the Smolensk region in western Russia, part of an overpass collapsed in the town of Vyazma, 233 kilometers (144 miles) west of Moscow, killing one person and injuring several others, Tass said.

The overpass fell onto railway tracks, halting trains to along the line towards Belarus and cutting almost 9,000 people off from gas supplies, Tass said, adding that local officials have opened a criminal investigation.

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