Residents in parts of central Latvia were urged to evacuate their homes on January 15, 2023, due to the worst flooding the state has seen since 1981.
A combination of heavy rain and a thaw arising from the unusually mild winter has led to the Daugava River to rise to its highest level in 40 years as of Friday, January 13, 2023. Among the worst affected areas is the city of Jekabpils where schools were closed, public transport services cut, and road restrictions introduced.
At the time, water levels at the river were just 5 cm (2 inches) below the 1981 record high, reaching 8.14 m (26.7 feet) above zero at Jekabils. The embankment reportedly protects Jekabpils from flooding up to a maximum of 9 m (29.5 feet) above the zero mark.1
A new dam was built in the region 10 years ago as a precautionary measure, but it began to crumble on January 15 under the pressure of the ice that drifted from Belarus.
Excavators have been deployed to strengthen the dam with fresh piles of sandbags, however, the situation remains tense and there is no guarantee that the dam will withstand the extreme circumstances.
While there have so far been no reported deaths or injuries, a large-scale evacuation is not out of the question.
“It will be near impossible to get you out from among the ice cold sludge once it rushes into your homes,” Raivis Ragainis, mayor of the city of Jekabpils, warned on local radio.2
A level 3 (of 3) meteorological warning has been issued in the Jekabpils district, and flood risk on the Daugava and Latvia’s other major rivers may last through to spring.
Rescue services in Latvia have urged local residents in affected zones to evacuate in good time, switching off the electricity and gas as they go, and to monitor drinking water quality.
Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and President Egils Levits have organized a crisis management meeting in the capital city of Riga to address the situation.
According to LSM, this is not the first time Latvia has seen flooding this year, as earlier in the year, floods in Adaži, near Riga, also led to evacuations.
The situation remains unpredictable, the weather forecast suggests colder weather next week, which may help with the situation, however, since that is forecast to be followed by another thaw, the issue could remain through the rest of winter.
1 Snow melt leads to major flooding in Latvian city of Jekabpils – ERR – January 13, 2023
2 Latvia hit by worst flood in decades – AFP – January 16, 2023
Featured image credit: Extreme flooding (stillshot)
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