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Russia

For Many, Floods A Fresh Opportunity To Ask Why Kremlin Can't Protect Its Citizens

Residents Of Flood-Stricken Russian Region Bury Their Deadi
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July 10, 2012
The city of Krymsk started burying many of the victims of the July 7 flash floods on July 9, as Russia observed a national day of mourning. (Video by RFE/RL' s Russian Service)
By Mumin Shakirov and Daisy Sindelar
KRYMSK, Russia -- Under a beating sun, a man with sorrowful eyes pauses for a drink of water as he uses a shovel to dig a grave for his son.

His son was one of more than 170 people killed in a nighttime flood that raced through this southern Russian city and others like it on July 6-7 with no warning or time for escape.

Now, with the grim process of burials under way, the father says authorities have provided no compensation or assistance in laying his 33-year-old son to rest.

"We were sitting together on top of a cabinet, with the water up to our waists. [Later] I called the Emergency Situations Ministry -- they had people out in boats -- and said: 'Guys, help me. I have a body. Help me at least set it on a sofa.'" he says. "But they said, 'That's not our job.' And that's it."

It's a seemingly familiar story in Russia, where large-scale humanitarian disasters are frequent and where the Kremlin's response is routinely condemned as both callous and inadequate.

Official Recriminations

The latest tragedy has prompted a round of official finger-pointing and blame, with President Vladimir Putin demanding explanations from the region's governor, Aleksandr Tkachev, who in turn has fired both the mayor and the top district official in Krymsk.

But it has resulted in few explanations for the fatal lack of warning or what, if any, role an aging reservoir may have played in the sudden rush of water.

Friends and relatives of a flood victim mourn in a cemetery in Krymsk in the southern Krasnodar territory on July 9.
Friends and relatives of a flood victim mourn in a cemetery in Krymsk in the southern Krasnodar territory on July 9.


Galina Tashmatova is the chief editor of the regional edition of the "Novaya gazeta" newspaper in Kuban. She says many residents remain convinced that officials knowingly released reservoir water to divert the flood away from larger and more important cities.

But even if the authorities are absolved of any wrongdoing, she says it will be too little, too late for most residents, who have already given up hope that their government is working for them.

"The worst thing is that, because of the Krymsk tragedy, citizens don't trust their government. It's actually frightening," Tashmatova says. "Our governor has allowed himself to manipulate public opinion too many times, to put it mildly."

'It Doesn't Matter If People Die'

The flood cleanup coincides with the July 10 anniversary of another tragedy -- the death of more than 120 people in the sinking of the "Bulgaria," a ramshackle river cruise ship, in the Volga River near Kazan in 2011.

The "Bulgaria" catastrophe followed 2010's summer of massive forest fires and the death of some 100 workers in a methane explosion at the Raspadskaya coal mine.

A year earlier, an explosion at the country's massive Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric dam caused a massive power blackout and left at least 74 people dead.

WATCH: After the devastating floods, residents of the southern Russian city of Krymsk have begun receiving aid packages sent from other parts of the country.
Humanitarian Aid Trickles In After Russian Floodsi
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July 10, 2012
After devastating floods on the weekend, residents of the southern Russian city of Krymsk have begun receiving aid packages sent from other parts of the country. (Video by RFE/RL's Russian Service)


Each of the incidents prompted cries of outrage from an increasingly vocal and mobilized public about government negligence. But none is seen as leading to improvements in safety standards or a more compassionate Kremlin response.

Masha Gessen, a Moscow-based journalist and the author of a Putin biography, notes that Krymsk has been subject to repeated incidents of deadly floods, including one as recently as 2002.

But she says the Russian government is unlikely to make a priority of disaster prevention as long as it sees no political cost in the loss of human life.

"The last large-scale flood in the region was 10 years ago. And it was clear at that point what the potential for damage was. So they would have had to plan ahead and put in physical protective measures and also create an alert system," Gessen says.

"But all of that requires long-term thinking, which this regime is completely incapable of. It's not accountable. It's not elected, it doesn't answer to anybody. So it doesn't matter if people die."

Andrei Shary of RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report

Daisy Sindelar

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: rick from: milan
July 10, 2012 14:14
RFE/RL

PLEASE ....

HAS A MINIMUM OF RESPECT FOR 170 DIED .

do not try to exploit their death ! ! !
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
July 10, 2012 16:14
Reporting a tragedy and peoples current feelings regarding it is not exploitation. In other parts of the world, flood warnings are issued by weather services. These people were not warned. No sirens, no radio broadcast, nothing. There are questions that NEED to be asked, and RFE/RL is doing just that....
In Response

by: rick from: milan
July 10, 2012 20:23
Yes .... reporting is not exploitation

but to do title like this :

"Why Can't Russia Protect Its Citizens?"

is a speculation , speculation of the worst kind !

by: Doug Clayton from: Ottawa
July 10, 2012 17:11
Yep, the floods are as bad as those in New Orleans: too bad the American disaster didn't lead people to question the American authorities, even though they had plenty of time to react, unlike the Russians. But I guess it didn't matter, since in NO it was just blacks that drowned....
In Response

by: Anonymous from: USA
July 10, 2012 22:01
ALL KINDS of Americans questioned the authorities (including me). People questioned FEMA, the State of Louisiana, the mayor or New Orleans, President Bush, etc. In fact, the criticism of FEMA became so loud that the head of that department lost his job. Nice try, though Doug! I didn't know Canadians were so racist...
In Response

by: Aibek
July 11, 2012 15:39
President Bush and administration were crticized continuously for Katrina and FEMA from date of hurricane to the end of his term. Any natural disaster in US still has people talking about Katrina. Even people who were given temporary housing complained it was not good enough.

by: American Troll
July 12, 2012 06:40
As long as we're doing Katrina analogies, the NHC issued its first warning for the NOLA area at 10 a.m. local time on the 27th, two days before landfall. To be fair, Kat's oft-forgotten first landfall was on the 25th at Cuba and Florida, but they had days' notice too.

Levee breaks were more immediately deadly than the storm itself, but those were announced in real time by local emergency services. Even with power out, warnings were still heard by anyone with a cellphone, laptop, or battery-powered police scanner (a beloved and nearly universal gadget in America which, I'm taking a wild and possibly incorrect guess, is probably not encouraged for private use in provincial Russia or is stigmatized as "for criminals").

On the disparity in body-count, we're comparing one of the world's busiest shipping ports with the Kuban river basin.

As for race, suffice to say that the survivors are lucky to be overwhelmingly Slavs capable of eliciting sympathy and outrage from central Russia. Had comparable floods struck even 200 clicks to the southeast in Adygeya or the KChR, the domestic reaction would be remarkably different even if the dead were still "fellow Russians" in the strictly civic sense.

On the "just blacks" comment, you might want to glance at the photo mounted over the US ambassador's desk. If Russia has a kavkavsky leader in three years, then we can talk. Yes, I know... "That's different. You wouldn't understand. It's about history, about pride, about purity, Rossiya dlya russkikh, etc." Still, it already happened once, and he remains wildly popular for his leadership style, even with Slav supremacists.

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