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Azerbaijanis Continue Evacuations Due To Massive Floods

Flooding in the villages of the Sabirabad district
Flooding in the villages of the Sabirabad district
BAKU -- More villages in southeastern Azerbaijan have been evacuated as flood waters continue to spread, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Villages were being evacuated in the Imishli, Saatli, and Sabirabad districts on May 12. Flooding first began on May 7 in Sabirabad, which is located near the delta where the Araz River joins the Kura River.

One death has been confirmed as a result of the floods when the body of a shepherd was found in the village of Cholgaraguney on May 12.

The water at Sarisu Lake also rose abruptly, forcing the evacuation of the nearby village of Narimankend. Landslides have also been reported in several areas after several days of heavy rain.

Thousands of homes have been affected by the flood waters, and Azerbaijani soldiers have been deployed to help barricade vulnerable areas with sandbags.

President Ilham Aliyev visited the flooded areas on May 11 and met with regional government officials. He pledged to help compensate people for their losses and reportedly said 400 million manats ($497.5 million) will be provided in aid.

A main dam on the Kura River is also reportedly at capacity.

Elnar Sultanov, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry's Hydrometeorology Center, told RFE/RL on May 12 that the maximum capacity of the Mingachevir Reservoir in the western part of the country is 83 meters and the level of the water in the storage had reached 82 meters.

Sultanov said officials will have to release water from the reservoir to keep it from going over the dam. But such a release will increase the water level on the Kura River.

Sultanov said more rain is expected until May 14 and the flooding will only worsen.

Sultanov dismissed previous allegations by Azerbaijani officals that Iranian authorities had manipulated the water levels in some reservoirs near Azerbaijan to increase the amount of water in the Araz and Kura rivers.

"The main reason for the disaster is that the Kura is silted up and the amount of water entering the river exceeds the amount of water that leaves it where the Kura joins the Caspian Sea," he told RFE/RL. "We had too much rainfall in past weeks both in Azerbaijan and Georgia and the river is overloaded."

He said the government must take immediate measures to widen the channels near where the Kura joins the Caspian Sea.