Russia floods kill at least 105

Streets are muddy after flooding in the the Black Sea resort of Gelendzhik, Russia.
(Ignat Kozlov, Associated Press)

MOSCOW — At least 105 people died when torrential rains tore through southern Russia, flooding tens of thousands of homes and catching sleeping people by surprise, authorities said Saturday.

“They ran out in the night with only with the clothes on their backs. My [parents] were able to save themselves and their passports,” Anna Kovalevskaya, whose parents live in Krymsk, tweeted from Moscow. “The city is in panic.”

Gov. Alexander Tkachev tweeted as he flew over the devastated area that “something unimaginable” had occurred in Krymsk, a city of 57,000 in the Krasnodar region about 750 miles south of Moscow. He later told the NTV news channel that the flooding was the worst the city had seen in 70 years.

News reports and residents’ Twitter and blog posts charged that the local government had released water from an overflowing reservoir in the nearby mountains overnight without warning, inundating the city with a 23-foot wave that tore down everything in its path.

“At night the water was so strong that it turned the asphalt inside out. People are upset — they say nobody warned them about the flood. We came across several streets with covered bodies,” Irina Kizilbasheva, a reporter for the local Channel 9 station, said in a news report.

Local officials denied the allegations.

“Nobody opened any reservoirs or floodgates, and in the Krymsk region there is no reservoir where floodgates can be opened to release water on the city,” regional government spokeswoman Anna Minkova said. “It’s all nonsense.”

At least 94 people died in Krymsk, Russia’s Interior Ministry reported. The nearby Black Sea port of Novorossiysk reported two deaths, and nine people were killed in the seaside resort of Gelendzhik, at least five of them from electric shock after a transformer fell. But residents fear the death toll is much higher.

Oil pipeline operator Transneft suspended oil shipments from Novorossiysk.

“Of course, we limited shipments, the port is located in the lower part of town, the whole landslide has moved toward it. As we speak, the rain has started again,” spokesman Vladimir Sidorov told the Reuters news agency.

Rain will continue in the area until Monday, weather reports predicted.

More than 1,500 Emergency Ministry officials were working on the disaster, state television reported. Water levels had come down, but electricity would remain off overnight, local police spokesman Igor Zhelyabin said.

Thousands had been evacuated to shelters, but some residents were staying near their destroyed homes to wait for missing relatives.

Police sent extra officers to the region to prevent looting as night approached, Zhelyabin said.

Narizhnaya is a special correspondent.