MOSCOW – Torrential rains dropped nearly a foot of water in the Black Sea region of southern Russia overnight, unleashing intense flooding that killed 99 people and forced many to scramble out of their beds for refuge in trees and on roofs, officials said Saturday.
Many people were asleep when the flooding hit in the Krasnodar region, and the water rushed into the area around the hard-hit town of Krimsk with such speed and volume that rumors emerged that local officials had opened a nearby water reservoir. Muddy water coursed through streets and homes, in some cases high enough to flow over the hoods of cars and even as high as rooftops, according to witnesses.
People waded through waist-high water or maneuvered the streets in boats on Saturday. About 5,000 residences were flooded, the Krasnodar governor was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency.
"Nobody remembers such a flood in all (of the area's) history," Alexander Tkachev said.
Anatoly Lastovetskt of the Interior Ministry gave the death toll as 99, and a regional ministry spokesman said earlier that at least 67 of the deaths were around Krimsk, about 750 miles south of Moscow. Five people died of electrical shock in the Black Sea coastal city of Gelendzhik after a transformer fell into the water, state news agency RIA Novosti said.
Anna Kovalevskaya, whose parents live in the flooded area, described water indundating their home up to the roof.
"In the town people are saying that a reservoir in the mountains above was opened," she told the Moscow-based radio station Russian News Service. "A wave came from there. There was 22 feet of water in the town."
There was no immediate official comment on the reservoir speculation. Ecologist Igor Chestin, director of the Russian office of the World Wildlife Fund acknowledged the rumors, but told the Interfax news agency that "we don't have such information."
State news channel Rossiya 24 showed video of area residents rescuing people in small, inflatable boats and others slogging glumly through flooded homes.
"It came so fast!" exclaimed one woman, whose name was not given, waving an arm in frustration at the shin-deep water in her living room, where a large teddy bear sat on a sofa.
As of 10 a.m. Saturday, more than 11 inches of rain had fallen in Gelendzhik since the previous evening, the state meteorological service said.
Gelendzhik is on the Black Sea coast, and along with the area around it, is a popular summer vacation spot, including many children's camps. Vice-premier Olga Golodets told RIA Novosti that some 7,100 children were at holiday camps in the area, and that with 459 children had to be evacuated.
The area also includes Novorossiisk, a major Black Sea port. The Transneft oil company said Saturday it has suspended loading oil onto tankers at the port because of the severe weather.
More than 1,500 Emergency Ministry officials were working to aid flood victims and clean up the damage, state TV said.