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Kazakhstan Detains Officials After Deadly Flood

The aftermath of the flood in the village of Kyzyl-Agash
ALMATY (Reuters) -- Kazakh police have detained several regional officials in connection with a probe into floods last week that killed 34 people near the financial capital Almaty, the Interior Ministry said today.

Eager to show decisive leadership at a time of economic hardship, President Nursultan Nazarbaev has ordered the government to investigate the rupture on March 12 of a dam, and bring to justice those responsible. In a statement issued after Nazarbaev's order, the Interior Ministry said it had detained five officials including the mayor of Kyzyl-Agash, a village which was completely destroyed when the nearby dam burst, flooding hilly pastures north of Almaty.

"At the president's request the case is under the direct control of the general prosecutor and the interior minister," the ministry said.

Spring flooding is a frequent occurrence in Central Asia but a sudden rise in temperatures following weeks of heavy snow storms has exacerbated the problem this year.

Scenes of destruction in the rural areas around Almaty, a city of glass-and-concrete skyscrapers and bleak Soviet-era buildings, has added to a sense of insecurity among Kazakhs struggling to overcome the effects of the economic slump.

Nazarbaev, in power for 20 years, sent Prime Minister Karim Masimov to inspect the site of the flood on March 12 after thousands were evacuated from the area.

Nazarbayev said over the weekend that the death toll from the flood was 35, but the Emergencies Ministry later corrected the number down to 34.

The second-biggest oil producer in the ex-Soviet Union after Russia, Kazakhstan is a vast steppe nation that has attracted more than $100 billion in foreign investment since independence.

The dam rupture has renewed focus on its decrepit Soviet-era infrastructure, a broader problem for many ex-Soviet countries long criticized by economists for not spending enough during the oil boom to upgrade social and communication facilities.

Last year, 38 people died in a fire at a 1950s-era hospital facility for drug addicts in a city near Almaty.