KRYMSK, RUSSIA // Russia was reeling from devastating flash floods in its southern Krasnodar region today where at least 150 people were killed and 29,000 remained without power in the region's worst natural disaster in history.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, personally inspected the worst-hit areas yesterday evening, comparing the force of the water that trapped people in their homes at night and ripped up pavements and traffic lights and flooded rail tracks to a "tsunami".
He also quickly moved to allay fears that the deluge was caused by an opening of floodgates at a local water reservoir.
At least 150 people died in the floods including 12 from Novorossiisk and Gelendzhik, both on the Black Sea, where five were electrocuted, a spokesman for regional investigators Ivan Sengerov said.
The worst hit area was a district around Krymsk, a town of 57,000 where rescue teams have found 139 bodies including those of a one-year-old baby and a 10-year-old child.
"Most of them were pensioners," Mr Sengerov said, adding the death toll was likely to be revised as rescue teams continued work.
"The Krasnodar region is experiencing the most difficult and the most devastating floods in its history," the regional administration said, adding that the region would observe a day of mourning tomorrow.
Krymsk residents complained that they have been left to their own devices and authorities offered no help.
"It's a catastrophe," said Viktor Voloshin, who arrived in the flood-ravaged town earlier to help relatives whose house was damaged. "People need drinking water but there is no drinking water being distributed."
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He also said that people were afraid of leaving their houses for fear of looting even if their homes were destroyed.
"We have a 30-degree weather now, diseases will begin."
Lidia Polinina said her elderly neighbour had died after becoming trapped by the flood waters. "She was paralysed. She couldn't get out of the house," she said.
"Everything has been destroyed. We need help pumping water out of the house, we have no drinking water."
"Our house was flooded to the ceiling, we could not open the door because of the water, so we broke the window to climb out."
"I put my five-year-old grandson on the roof of our submerged car, and then we somehow climbed up into the attic. I don't know how we managed to survive."
Nearly 29,000 people remain without power across the region, the emergencies ministry said.
Flash floods frequently batter towns along the Black Sea coast during seasonal rains in the Caucasus Mountains, but authorities say the current disaster is unprecedented.
Officials have been unable to explain the massive death toll, saying only the floods were caused by torrential rains and caught many people in their sleep.
The force of the water was so ferocious that many residents said they suspected the floods were a man-made disaster caused by an opening of floodgates at a local water reservoir.
"Where did the water come from?" Mr Putin asked government officials in televised remarks.
Alexander Tkachev, the governor of Krasnodar, swiftly replied: "It was raining."
Mr Tkachev had earlier called on people to stop spreading "stupid rumours," saying on Twitter that the region received five months' worth of rain.
But in a bid to address persistent concerns, Mr Putin, wearing a black shirt, was shown on television grilling officials about whether an emergency release of water was possible at a reservoir at the Neberdzhai River.
Following the meeting the Kremlin issued a statement saying Mr Putin had been told an emergency release of water was not technically possible at the reservoir.
A regional environmental group Environmental Watch on North Caucasus maintained the level of damage on the ground indicated that the rush of water originated at the Neberdzhai reservoir but could not provide details.
Mr Putin said survivors would get new homes while families of victims would receive two million roubles (Dh223,306) each.