Russia floods spur calls for emergency warnings

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 16, 2012 7:40 AM
Russia floods spur calls for emergency warnings

By Gabriela Baczynska

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's government faces growing pressure to install a new emergency warning system and improve weather forecasting after survivors complained that little was done to prevent scores of people being killed in floods in the south of the country.

Survivors said no flood warning had been issued before a huge wave through Krymsk, the worst-hit town in the Krasnodar region near the Black Sea, early on July 7. The death toll in the region was 171 and many homes were destroyed.

"In fact, we should start from scratch a new system of collecting information and data which is not based on outdated methods and systems," Igor Chistyakov, a hydraulics professor, told reporters. "We must make sure the local authorities have all the data and can really act on the basis of them."

The Russian government has accused district officials of making mistakes in their handling of the region's worst flooding for decades, including failing to warn people properly.

The accusations have helped prevent blame being aimed at President Vladimir Putin, who toured the flood zone hours after disaster struck and again on Sunday.

Chistyakov called for more investment in modern weather tracking, establishment of a road monitoring system and a review of the country's safety procedures, among other steps.

"No matter how many local leaders we dismiss, the warning system and then the rescue operation mechanisms remain the same. We need a systemic approach at a country-wide level," he said, adding that the revamp would still less than the several billion roubles earmarked to support the region now.

In Krymsk, a town of 57,000, many people were caught unawares by water pouring into their homes in the middle of the night. Witnesses said the elderly had little chance of surviving.

"The systemic problem we have is that meteorology alerts are being ignored. And that is happening at a time when we are clearly observing a rise in dangerous weather phenomenon, their frequency and intensity - in Russia and around the world," said Alexey Kokorin of the conservation organization WWF.

"Flood warnings were issued by (Russia's hydrometeorology and environment monitoring agency) Rosgidromet several hours beforehand, but no action was taken from there."

Such problems follow years of underfunding in infrastructure in Russia which has often been blamed for man-made disasters and the failure to prevent deaths in natural catastrophes.


Russia's emergencies minister has dismissed accusations of any wrongdoing at the state level. He says an investigation will find out who exactly was to blame on the ground.

"We too are worried and we will make sure to find out what happened," said the minister, Vladimir Puchkov.

He said nearly 35,000 people had suffered losses from the floods - of which nearly 30,000 lost all of their basic goods, while a further 5,500 saw a part of their belongings swept away.

Some 3,000 people were injured and over 800 cars damaged, Puchkov said, adding the state budget compensations will range from 100,000 to 1 million roubles for each person that suffered.

In Krymsk itself, many people are pessimistic about their chances of getting the money to cover all their losses, as well as outraged and devastated by the lack of proper warnings.

Some have suggested the nearby Neberdzhayevskoe reservoir had its gates opened deliberately to avert risk to a more populous town of Gelendzhik.

"The reservoir has nothing to do with this," Puchkov said last week. "In fact, the reservoir has even helped mitigate the damage."

A lawmaker from the parliamentary opposition party Just Russia, however, said no private investor would be able to maintain expensive water management systems because they did not guarantee quick financial returns.

"This is what you get from privatizing water management systems, drainage, hydroenergy and so on. This in fact guarantees more such tragedies. I'm worried when I hear the government wants to pursue this policy further," said Ivan Grachev, who heads the lower house of parliament's energy commission.

($1 = 32.7935 Russian roubles)

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)