Russia reels from floods as toll climbs to 146

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A man walks past a submerged car on a flooded street in the southern Russian town of Krymsk.

Russia on Sunday was reeling from devastating flash floods in its southern Krasnodar region where at least 146 people were killed and 29,000 remained without power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin personally inspected the worst-hit areas Saturday 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 quash panicky speculation that the deluge was caused by an opening of floodgates at a local water reservoir.

At least 146 people died in the floods including 12 from the port of Novorossiisk and the popular Black Sea resort town of Gelendzhik where five were electrocuted, spokesman for regional investigators Ivan Sengerov told AFP.

The worst hit area was a district around Krymsk, a town of 57,000 where rescue teams have found 134 bodies including those of a one-year-old toddler and a 10-year-old child.

"Most of them were pensioners," Sengerov said, adding the death toll was likely to be revised as rescue teams continued work.

Krymsk is about 200 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of the Black Sea resort of Sochi where Russia will host the 2014 Summer Olympic Games.

"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 on Monday.

Krymsk residents complained Sunday 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 Sunday to help relatives whose house was damaged.

"People need drinking water but there is no drinking water being distributed," he told AFP.

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," he added.

Pensioner 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 told AFP.

"Everything has been destroyed," she added. "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," she said.

"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," she said, adding that they had received no warning or assistance.

Nearly 29,000 people remain without power across the region, the emergencies ministry said.

Flash floods frequently batter towns along the picturesque 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?" Putin asked government officials in televised remarks.

Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachev swiftly replied: "It was raining."

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, Putin, wearing in a black shirt, was shown on television grilling officials about whether an emergency release of water was possible at a reservoir on the local Neberdzhai River.

Following the meeting the Kremlin issued a statement saying 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 Naberdzhai reservoir but could not provide details.

Putin said survivors would get new homes while families of victims would receive two million rubles ($60,800) each.

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