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Report: 64 Missing In Russian Dam Disaster Likely Dead


The Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The 64 people missing after the disaster at Russia's largest hydroelectric dam are most likely dead, the dam's owner has said, presaging a far higher death toll than the 12 confirmed killed so far.

"Finding anyone alive in the flood zone is unlikely, but the search continues," Vasily Zubakin, the chairman of state-run hydroelectricity company RusHydro, said through a spokesman.

He said 64 people are still unaccounted for after one of the turbine rooms flooded at the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam early on August 17, forcing steel and aluminium plants in Siberia to turn to emergency power.

RusHydro, owner of the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant, said the damage would run into "billions of rubles" and take several months to repair. The company's shares were suspended in Russia and fell more than 15 percent in London.

Panicked residents in the shadow of the Soviet-era dam fled their homes when news of the accident spread. Calm returned after Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said there was no danger of damage to the structure of the dam and no danger that it would burst.

Officials said water flooded a turbine room at the dam, which is more than 3,000 kilometers east of Moscow. An investigation was under way to determine the cause.

A Reuters correspondent saw about 150 emergency workers in safety helmets gathered at the dam. The damaged pump room, around 100 meters long, is located high in a concrete wall that has dammed the waters of the Yenisei River since 1978.

RusHydro acting chief executive Vasily Zubakin, speaking on a conference call, said the plant had stopped operations. Some production units were damaged beyond repair, and even a partial restart of the undamaged units would take several months, he said.

The Sayano-Shushenskaya plant represents 25 percent of RusHydro's total capacity of 25.3 gigawatts of power.

"The accident will serve as a reminder of the importance of electricity in a modern economy, and that safety and reliability cannot be achieved without proper funding," analysts at investment bank Renaissance Capital said in a research note.

Russia's financial markets regulator suspended trading in RusHydro shares on both main stock exchanges at the company's request. The stock had fallen 7.1 percent on the MICEX exchange when suspended, while the main index was down 3 percent.

Aluminum And Steel

Zubakin said three of the station's 10 power generating units had been destroyed and repairs would take years.

The power station is only 50 kilometers from two smelters owned by Rusal, the world's largest aluminum producer and the biggest asset in the empire of indebted businessman Oleg Deripaska.

Electricity to the Khakasia and Sayanogorsk plants was cut but both switched to supplies from neighboring regions and resumed normal operations, said Vladimir Shulekin, spokesman for the Sayanogorsk plant.

But, at an emergency meeting chaired by Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko and attended by Deripaska, aluminum output cuts were discussed as a possible way of creating additional energy reserves for autumn and winter.

Putin, shown on Vesti television monitoring the situation from the Emergency Situations Ministry in Moscow, ordered his deputy Igor Sechin to propose changes to state-regulated electricity prices in Siberia in response to the accident, agencies reported.

Renaissance Capital said the unavailability of a third of Sayano-Shushenskaya's capacity would reduce RusHydro's 2010 revenues by around $100 million, or 3 percent. It forecast reconstruction costs of between $1.0 billion and $1.5 billion.

Zubakin said RusHydro's monthly losses would be 1.5 billion rubles ($47.3 million), Interfax news agency reported.

Regional power supplier OGK-6 said in a statement it had raised output at its Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric plant to full capacity to help make up the shortfall from the accident.

Steel maker Evraz Group also relies on Sayano-Shushenskaya for some of the power used by its mills and coal mines in Kemerovo region. Evraz said it was doing everything to avoid or minimise any possible production losses.