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Siberian flood crisis eases

YAKUTSK, Russia -- Flooding in the Siberian region of Yakutia has eased after Russian bombers blasted a massive ice jam.

The jets rained explosives on the 29 km (18-mile) plug of ice on the Lena river that has caused the worst flooding the region has seen for 100 years.

President Vladimir Putin is set to visit the area, a Kremlin spokesman for the Kremlin told the Reuters news agency, but details of his visit have not been finalised.

Tatyana Tarasova, spokeswoman for the regional government, told the Associated Press that water levels in Yakutsk had receded from a record high of 9.17 metres to 8.87 metres after the aerial onslaught.

After ravaging Lensk, home to 26,000 people, the flood inundated the regional capital Yakutsk last week, killing at least five people and washing away thousands of homes.

Workers using bombs and icebreakers destroyed the ice clogging the Lena, but officials warned the emergency was not over yet.

"There are still many jams," added Tarasova. "It's going to keep flooding and flooding."

Authorities in Yakutsk have ordered residents to take cover at home and prepare for more flooding, and have opened 35 evacuation centres with capacity for 20,000 people.

Buses mounted with public address systems are circulating the city urging people to take cover if they hear an air-raid siren -- a signal that floodwaters will inundate the city.

Hospitals have discharged all patients who are able to walk and relocated others to the top floors.

Armies of emergency workers are using heavy trucks to pile sand and earth on dykes and levees around the city in an attempt to lower the risk of flooding.

The Emergency Situations Ministry has also banned the sale of strong alcohol in the city.

"If the water hits the city, it will be very cold and people will start warming themselves up the usual Russian way. It will be much easier for us to save them if they are sober," a spokeswoman for the ministry told Reuters.

But many residents have refused to leave their homes, electing to wait out the flood in attics and roofs for fear of looting.

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

People in nearby villages have driven their livestock onto higher ground, some tethering their cows to highway markers lining roads.

The ministry confirmed further upstream in Lensk, the town that was ravaged last week, about 14,000 residents have been left homeless.

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

Both Lensk and Yakutsk fall in the path of the river Lena, which tracks northward for about 1,400 km (860) miles through the Siberian tundra into the Arctic ocean.

Siberian rivers flood regularly because they flow from south to north. Water flowing from the south where the spring thaw occurs earlier runs into blocks of ice that have not yet melted in the north.

But local officials were astounded by the intensity of this year's deluge, which experts say was caused by a combination of an exceptionally harsh winter and unusually warm spring.

• Russian Government

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