Russia battles huge far east flood - 20,000 evacuated

Two bears were airlifted to safety as floodwaters rose

More than 20,000 people have been evacuated from flood-stricken areas in Russia's far east, where the Amur river has burst its banks after heavy rain.

The army and emergency workers have set up 166 temporary shelters across three regions, providing drinking water, hot food and medical supplies, RIA Novosti news agency reports.

But Russian Vesti TV reports that many people do not want to be evacuated.

The Amur and Khabarovsk regions, near the Chinese border, are worst affected.

At the scene

Near Blagoveshchensk, the capital of the Amur region, the Zeya river is usually just a few hundred metres wide. But now, the water stretches more than 10km (6 miles) from bank to bank, covering streets and gardens in several villages.

A small dam is still holding, protecting the city - but local residents say if the waters rise further, this might not be enough.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated, but some have refused to leave their homes. They are camping out on rooftops, hoping to protect their possessions in case looting starts.

The authorities have deployed thousands of troops and emergency personnel - and they are calling for calm. Experts suggest the flooding will not get any worse over the next few days, but the weather forecast promises more rain later this month. The flood waters are not expected to fully recede until September.

Both the Amur river and a major tributary, the Zeya, have flooded huge areas in what is said to be the region's worst flooding for 120 years.

The damage so far has been estimated at about 3bn roubles (£58m; $91m).

Russian TV showed footage of armoured personnel carriers and amphibious military vehicles carrying civilians to safety from flooded areas.

Soldiers have been deployed to guard abandoned homes to prevent looting.

Rescuers have airlifted to safety two brown bears from a flooded tourism resort near the city of Blagoveshchensk in the Amur region.

A helicopter has taken the two adult bears to high ground some 800m (2,625ft) from the Zelyonaya resort.

The flood in the Amur region has now practically passed its peak, the head of the Russian Meteorological Service is quoted as saying by the Itar-Tass news agency.

Russia map

Experts suggest the flooding will not get any worse over the next few days, but the weather forecast promises more rain later this month, says BBC Russian's Yuri Maloveryan in Blagoveshchensk.

But the flood waters are not expected to fully recede until September, our correspondent adds.

The deluge has also caused widespread flooding in neighbouring provinces of China, prompting mass evacuations.

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