Snowmelt causes severe floods in Kazakhstan, forces evacuations

Snowmelt causes severe floods in Kazakhstan, forces evacuations

Severe floods are wreaking havoc across Kazakhstan over the past couple of days after this season's above-average snow started to melt, increasing river levels across the country. Floods forced thousands to evacuate, destroyed houses and power lines, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Authorities are reporting floods in 7 regions, with emergency situations declared in Aktobe, Gabit Musrepov district in North Kazakhstan region and Beskaragay district of the East Kazakhstan region.

The flooding started after a sharp rise in temperatures between March 23 and 29. Villages in Semey and Ayagoz districts in East Kazakhstan Oblast and four districts in Karaganda Oblast were first affected.

The second wave of flooding began on April 6 as a result of another sharp rise in temperatures, TengriNews reported. Affected regions were Karaganda and Akmola in central Kazakhstan. The threat now extends to Astana suburbs located near the riverbed of Nura.

On April 15, Karaganda Oblast's Department of Emergency said 1 760 houses have been flooded in 35 villages and 340 livestock drowned.

TengriNews said that the village of Aksu in Shet district saw all of its 150 residents evacuated after the Sherubai-Nur River spilled out of its banks. All the villagers of Zhastlek in Bukharzhyrau district were evacuated, too. In the village of Saken Seifulin, everybody was evacuated together with their livestock. Abay district shared the same fate.

Strengthening and building of dikes is underway in all affected settlements. Observation posts have been put in place to monitor the situation. Water is being pumped away from the houses and protective dams are being constructed.

Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan Vladimir Bozhko dispelled the rumors that the floods in Kazakhstan came as a surprise this year.

At a press conference in Astana on April 15, he said that the forecast of Kazhydromet made in February suggested that the amount of autumn moisture and winter snow exceeded the normal amount by 30 to 40% in Akmola, Karaganda, North Kazakhstan and Kostanai Oblasts. "It was expected that the amount of water in the rivers of Ishim, Silety, Shagalaly, Nura and Sherubai-Nur would be above average," he said.

Therefore, starting from March 3 emergency response units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs numbering 8 561 people and 1 255 pieces of equipment, nine helicopters and 211 boats were put on high alert.

According to Bozhko, meltwater already washed away or flooded 17.3 km (10.7 miles) of roads in 89 sections. Five bridges were destroyed. Bozhko explained that to prevent loss of lives 11 172 people were evacuated from danger zones in advance. In addition, during the period of high waters, 25 people were rescued from rooftops. Also, more than 36 thousand heads of livestock were driven away from the endangered settlements to the high ground. 

Featured image: Flood evacuations in North Kazakhstan, April 2017. Credit: Committee for Emergency Situations, Kazakhstan

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