by Staff Writers
Krymsk, Russia (AFP) July 9, 2012
The first head rolled Monday over the floods in southern Russia that killed at least 171 people as the authorities blamed local officials for failing to warn locals in time of the looming calamity.
In the worst-hit town of Krymsk where most of the deaths occurred, the locals' anger at the authorities did not subside over lack of information and help as the first victims were laid to rest in a nearby cemetery.
Monday was also a day of mourning for those killed by the country's worst flooding disaster of recent history, with flags flying at half-mast over the Kremlin and entertainment programmes shelved on national television.
The region's governor Alexander Tkachev attempted to moderate public fury Monday by firing the head of Krymsk district, accusing him of failing to carry out responsibilities in a crisis.
Initially he was quoted by his press service as saying that the Krymsk mayor was also fired, however his quote was later modified on the Krasnodar region administration website, explaining it only as a "technical mistake".
"It has been proven that the (Krymsk) district officials received a flood warning at least three hours before it began," Tkachev said at a meeting.
"Why do people even need local authorities, who have shown their inability to work in a critical situation?" Tkachev said, complaining that the region had to "accept all responsibility" for handling the crisis.
Tkachev earlier on Sunday faced emotional Krymsk residents who shouted at him "Why are we always flooded?", and was severely criticised for implying the locals would not have believed a flood warning anyway.
"You think we had to go door to door?" he asked. "And would you just pack up and leave?"
The force of the flood along with lack of warning and information bred theories that it was caused by an opening of sluice gates at a nearby reservoir.
The rumours persisted even after President Vladimir Putin was told on national TV that this was impossible, forcing the governor to take a group of locals to the reservoir in a helicopter.
Mistrust of official information remained Monday as Krymsk residents suspected the real toll was being covered up.
"I am sure the toll is much higher (than the official number)," said Alla Antonova, adding that four people died just in her immediate neighbourhood.
Most of all, people are angry at the lack of flood warning in the area that was last hit in 2002 by a similar flood, which had a lower toll.
"They could have turned on sirens, but there was nothing," she said, denying that there were any text messages as claimed by officials. "People would not have gone to bed if they were told something," she told AFP.
Krymsk district had lost at least 159 people in the floods. The other deaths occurred in the port city Novorossiisk and resort town Gelendzhik, where some of the victims died of electrocution in a thunderstorm.
Putin held a meeting in Moscow to discuss the floods aftermath, observing a moment of silence and calling for a "detailed and absolutely objective" investigation into possible violations by responsible officials.
Several funerals took place at a cemetery outside Krymsk, where tractors had to be used to dig graves. Grieving relatives told AFP that many bodies had to be taken to morgues in other cities as the local one quickly overflowed.
Russian investigators were looking into documents and questioning officials for "further legal assessment of how officials responsible for preventing the scope of the tragedy carried out their duties," the Investigative Committee said Monday, continuing its negligence probe.
Nearly 35,000 people lost part or all of their belongings in the flooding, Russia's emergencies ministry said Monday. Emergencies minister Vladimir Puchkov confirmed that "certain officials and services made clear mistakes" and failed to warn people adequately.
The tragedy also mobilised volunteers nationwide in a drive that was similar to the summer of 2010 when Russia was devastated by wildfires and many people lost their belongings.
Krymsk is about 200 kilometres (120 miles) northwest of the Black Sea resort of Sochi where Russia will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
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