Putin fights to stem public fury as 153 die in Black Sea floods
RUSSIA'S president was last night fighting to stem a backlash of public anger over the deaths of at least 153 people in severe flooding in the Black Sea region.
Torrential flooding turned streets into swirling muddy rivers and inundated thousands of homes as many residents were sleeping.
President Vladimir Putin has come under fire in previous years for a delayed or seemingly indifferent response to disasters.
He flew to the region in southern Russia and said he was personally committed to managing the disaster.
He ordered the head of Russia's investigative agency to establish whether enough had been done to warn people about the floods. Federal prosecutors also said they were investigating whether the population had been properly protected from "natural and technological catastrophes".
Russia has seen a series of natural and man-made disasters in recent years, many of them blamed on ageing infrastructure or lax safety rules.
The rains dropped up to a foot of water in less than 24 hours, which the state meteorological service said was five times the monthly average.
The water rushed into the hard-hit town of Krymsk early on Saturday with such speed and volume that residents said they suspected that water had been intentionally released from a reservoir in the mountains above. Local officials denied this, saying it was not technically possible to open the sluices.
Federal investigators, however, acknowledged last night that water had been released naturally from the reservoir, but they insisted it did not cause the flooding and the dam had not been breached.
Krymsk received about 221mm of rain overnight, but 50mm of that came in less than an hour late on Friday, the meteorological service said.
Mr Putin sent his emergencies minister on an inspection mission, a further indication of the concern over the condition of the reservoir. Vladimir Puchkov later reported that he had seen no evidence of any damage.
Even heavier rain fell in Gelendzhik, a popular seaside vacation spot. Novorossiisk, a major Black Sea port, also was affected.
The Interior Ministry said yesterday that 153 bodies had been recovered, 142 of them in and around Krymsk and nine in Gelendzhik. The majority of the dead were elderly who were unable to escape the sudden deluge.