Putin Orders Probe of Officials as 100,000 Affected by Flooding

President Vladimir Putin ordered investigators to probe actions by officials and OAO RusHydro’s management during record flooding that engulfed Russia’s Far East and forced five regions to declare a state of emergency.

Surging waters in the Amur River basin may have caused as much as 50 billion rubles ($1.5 billion) in damage, destroying crops and affecting 100,000 people, Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov said today in an interview in Khabarovsk, where he accompanied Putin on a tour of the inundated areas.

“Some our citizens are doubtful that officials, including those overseeing the hydropower industry, acted strictly in accordance with mandated instructions and existing laws,” Putin said today at a government meeting. Their “actions must be most thoroughly examined.”

The region’s biggest towns including Khabarovsk, a city of more than 590,000 people, are bracing for the swollen Amur to peak in the coming days as authorities deploy tens of thousands of emergency personnel on a rescue mission in six regions. Speaking at a meeting two days ago, Putin asked RusHydro Chief Executive Officer Evgeny Dod to respond to criticism that Russia’s state-run hydropower producer didn’t conduct timely releases of water from its local facilities.

The Investigative Committee opened a probe of officials at RusHydro’s Zeya and Bureya plants, according to a statement. Yelena Vishnyakova, a spokeswoman for Moscow-based RusHydro, said the company bears no responsibility for the flooding. Its dams have held back about 70 percent of the deluge, she said.

RusHydro Probes

RusHydro has been the subject of other investigations this year, including a probe into missing building funds. The Interior Ministry opened an inquiry into suspected embezzlement of funds in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia region on March 7.

Heavy rains and RusHydro’s actions probably both contributed to the severity of the situation in the Far East, said Khabarovsk Mayor Alexander Sokolov.

The Amur River embankment in Khabarovsk, the Far East’s second biggest city, was completely submerged under water today. The police closed access to the final open section of Khabarovsk’s riverfront today, with sandbags piled up along the shoreline and soldiers working to protect the city around the clock.

Rescuers used a boat to move between houses as water covered the nearby garages up to their roofs. A canteen was distributing porridge and tea.

More than 1,000 of the houses inundated in the region can’t be rebuilt, according to Puchkov. The water level near Khabarovsk, which has been at the highest in more than a century, rose to 7.63 meters (25 feet) as of 8 p.m. local time, rising by 2 centimeters in four hours, according to the Emergencies Ministry. The Amur is predicted to crest at as high as 7.80 meters Sept. 2-4, according to the ministry.

“There were cataclysms before, but it’s the first time to happen at such a scale” said Zinaida Bondarenko, 67, who lives in a ground-floor apartment in one of the worst-affected areas of Khabarovsk. “I just hope they will pump all the water from my house before the first frost comes.”