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Flood crisis worsens in Siberia

MOSCOW, Russia -- Brown flood water submerged the city of Yakutsk after authorities bombed an 18-mile ice jam clogging the river Lena.

Planes dropped explosives to dislodge the ice floes plugging the swollen river, releasing a build-up of water carrying three-foot chunks of ice that swept into homes and lifted cars from the road.

Warm spring weather is also being blamed for the record water levels as rapidly melting snow has caused other major rivers to overflow. The water is rising by about 2 inches per hour.

Even though flooding occurs in the Lena river basin and other regions each spring, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told the Associated Press that this year's flooding was unprecedented.

Yakutsk is the largest settlement in the path of the Lena river and is home to almost 200,000. Some 580 residents were evacuated on Monday morning, said the Associated Press.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said 3,580 people so far had been moved out of Yakutsk, along with about 42,000 others from all parts of the Yakutia region.

Many residents have refused to leave their homes for fear of looting and have camped out on upper floors or on roofs, where some have erected small shacks and tents for sleeping.

Emergency officials have been distributing food and drinking water to stranded residents by boat.

Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the ministry, told the Associated Press that emergency workers and student volunteers are racing against time to reinforce dykes protecting the city with dirt and sand.

Officials said the levees would only hold up to about another five feet of water.

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the floods had washed away 400 homes in the nearby town of Lensk, leaving about 2,000 people homeless.

One woman died when she and her husband tried to leave Lensk in a boat that capsized after being struck by a large block of ice.

And on Sunday, Russia's RTR television showed families cooking over a campfire beside huge ice blocks that had settled on a city street.

The ministry said that Lensk will need extensive reconstruction of 1,831 residential buildings, 396 kilometres of electric lines and 184 kilometres of roads.

But Shoigu has proposed that the city be rebuilt elsewhere, said the Associated Press.

Yakutsk is the last large city on the Lena river, which loops northward for about 860 miles through the Siberian tundra into the Arctic ocean.

Flooding was also reported on Sunday in the Altai region on the border with Mongolia, said the Associated Press.

The Katun river, a tributary of western Siberia's Ob river, burst its banks near the town of Platovo and flooded several dozen homes, the ITAR-Tass News Agency reported.

• Russian Government

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