Floods in Russia's Far East 'could last another month'
Nearly 100,000 residents of the Russian Far East have been affected by devastating floods in the region, which have already left almost 10,000 houses ruined by water, Russia's Far East Development Ministry has reported. In the Emergencies Ministry's estimates, floods will continue for another month and will end not earlier than in late September.
Severe flooding on the River Amur began several weeks ago. The worst affected has been Amur Region, which was the first to be hit by the disaster.
According to the Emergencies Ministry, there are some 130 towns and villages in the area affected by the floods, so far mostly in Amur Region.
The peak of the flood is now moving downstream, to the Jewish Autonomous Area and Khabarovsk, although water has still not receded from flooded Amur Region villages either.
Overall, damage from the flooding may exceed 30 billion roubles, the office of the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District has said.
President Vladimir Putin has already said that responsibility for the damage caused to facilities that were built with violations of construction rules for areas prone to flooding will be borne by developers and the authorities that have sanctioned the construction in the first place.
How to dry one's house after flooding
Houses look like islands: you enter them at the attic level, with all the other floors submerged under water and unfit to be lived in.
There are people moving around these archipelagos in boats: local residents, post officials delivering pensions, rescuers (both uniformed and not), and doctors administering jabs.
In some areas it is still possible to move around on foot, although only if you have tall rubber boots on. The flooding in Amur Region has long stopped being a one-off act of God and has turned into a new lifestyle.
In areas where water is just beginning to rise, one can see sofas mounted on chairs, folded carpets placed on top of wardrobes, together with documents, clothes, books, and utensils - in the hope of saving at least something.
Water is destroying everything: furniture, walls, as well as kitchen gardens, which at the moment could only be used as paddy fields.
Water also spells death for another source of rural livelihood, the cattle, which either drown or have to be culled to avoid outbreaks of disease.
The new lifestyle is unlikely to last long as water will subside eventually, but it will be followed by a new phase: spending the winter with relatives, or in temporary camps, holiday homes or even in military compounds, waiting for new houses to be built, which is unlikely to happen sooner than next spring or summer.
According to the Emergencies Ministry, water will subside only in late September, when the weather here will already turn cold.
People will have to start afresh, since it is impossible to quickly restore goods and property accumulated over a lifetime. They are unlikely to cope without some support from the state.
Parts of China are suffering from their worst flooding in more than century, according to state media. The Amur, known in China as the Heilong River, has risen since mid-August with some middle and lower sections reaching their highest levels since records began in 1896.
Areas of the north-east, along the Russian border, have been some of the worst hit, with more than 80 people losing their lives. At least 200,000 others have been evacuated from their homes.
Some 30,000 residents of the affected areas have already received cash assistance from the state. Some have been paid 10,000 roubles as emergency aid; others have received the same amount in compensation for lost crops; still others have been paid 50,000 roubles in compensation for damaged property or flooded summer houses.
Equally, very few people will be able to rebuild their housing without outside help: there is not much hope for insurance payments, so people's only hope is to get assistance from the state.
The state has already had experience of large-scale rebuilding efforts like the one that will be required here: after forest fires in 2010 as well as after floods, including the one in Lensk, in Yakutia, 12 years ago, after which the whole town had to be rebuilt from scratch.
This is just the start of a long journey. The most important thing now is to cope with the rising water, to protect Khabarovsk, Komsomolsk-na-Amure, villages, roads, bridges. Rebuilding will follow next.
Far East gets help from the whole of Russia
Russia has had experience of nation-wide aid drives too: every region has at one time or another offered help to its stricken neighbours.
The affected areas are receiving everything they need: food, drinking water, medicines, fuel, stoves, clothes, technical equipment, even computers, schoolbags and textbooks: the school year begins very soon and children must study no matter what.
Dozens of people – professional rescuers, volunteers, servicemen – arrive in the flooded areas daily. There are at least 40,000 people building dams, pumping water out and doing other important jobs as part of the relief effort.
Flood to peak in Khabarovsk on Thursday
On Tuesday morning, the level of the River Amur in Khabarovsk reached 735 cm (with the critical level considered to be at 600 cm) and continued to go up.
At first the maximum level was expected to reach 780 cm, then over 8 metres. Dams in the city have already been raised above the 8-metre mark.
Villages situated downstream from Khabarovsk are bracing themselves up for the rising water.
Six more villages are expected to be flooded, in addition to the 39 ones that are already underwater. Komsomolsk-na-Amure and Nikolayevsk-na-Amure are preparing to be hit by the rising water too.
A fierce struggle is under way for the region's key road linking Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk-na-Amure. New dams are being built at its most dangerous sections, but the Amur is not giving up either, making fresh attempts to flood the motorway.
So far the road has been closed to traffic only at night, for safety reasons, but there remains the risk that it will have to be shut down completely. A temporary air route has been established between the two cities: so far with only one flight a day.
The Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Monitoring of the Environment reports that Thursday will see the floods peak in the Jewish Autonomous Area too. Water will remain there for five days, after which it should start to gradually recede, meteorologists say.
Furthermore, this area is expected to be hit by flood water from China, which too has been affected by heavy rains, swelling up Amur tributaries. The good news is that this wave is not expected to affect the whole of the region and should not go beyond some local flooding.
First published in Russian by RIA Novosti