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Anger At Tajik Authorities After Floods

Flood Waters In Tajikistan
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Footage from RFE/RL's Tajik Service

KULOB, Tajikistan -- Search and rescue efforts are under way in Tajikistan's southern Kulob region, where according to the authorities floods have killed at least 21 people.

Emergency officials say dozens of people are still unaccounted for.

RFE/RL correspondents in the city of Kulob say people are looking for their missing relatives and recovering bodies alongside the river.

Local residents have expressed anger at what they call the authorities' insufficient and belated response to the natural disaster that hit in the early hours of May 7.

Two days since the floods hit, locals say they haven't received food, dry clothes, or medical assistance. Kulob, a city of around 100,000 people, also faces a severe shortage of clean drinking water.

Asliddin Dostiev, a Kulob resident, says "emergency teams arrived late and without any equipment to rescue people and without any tents to shelter people."

Muhammadjon Sharifov, a Kulob resident who has lost his mother in the flood, says many lives would have been saved if emergency services arrived on time.

"My mother, sister, and nephews were sleeping in one room. I was in another when the flood came. I rescued the small children, then I saw my mother's body floating in the water," Sharifov says.

"Emergency services and officials arrived only after eight o'clock. But even then they didn't do much to help. 'We can't do anything, our clothes might get muddy,' they told us."

Another local affected by the disaster, Ahmad Ibrohimov, said that "people are helping each other, some bringing food, others bringing warm clothes."

Officials from Tajikistan's Emergency Situations Ministry told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the ministry teams in the area "are making a list of missing people, a list of victims, and evacuating residents to safe locations."

Disputed Casualty Figures

According to official figures, more than 1,500 houses, several schools, and offices have been completely or partially destroyed in Kulob and surrounding villages. Flood waters have also destroyed 12 bridges.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Kulob, Mumin Ahmadi, says that local people fear that "actual casualty numbers are much higher than the official version."

"Residents say they have buried more than 50 bodies of those killed by floods. Some 60-70 people are still missing and feared dead. People say their bodies remain under rocks or have been driven away by flood waters," Ahmadi says.

Military units from the Russian base in Kulob took part in the rescue operation and offered armored vehicles to help transport victims to safer areas.

Oxfam and the International Committee of the Red Cross have reportedly begun to deliver emergency aid including tents, warm clothes, and hot meals.

Tajikistan's emergency services have been criticized in the past for their slow and inadequate response to disasters.

In March, two avalanches in the Anzob mountainous pass in the northwest of the country killed at least 15 people. Eyewitnesses blamed most of the deaths on the absence of timely help.

Emergency teams were also criticized for their response to a 2008 fire at the Tajik Medical University, when fire fighters -- based not far from the area -- arrived only after the building was almost completely burned to the ground.

Kulob authorities receive some $2.5million every year for "taking measures to minimize flood damage," but Tajikistan's anticorruption agency has said that much of that money is lost due to "corruption."

Reported from Kulob by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondents; written by Farangis Najibullah in Prague
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