Swiftly melting snow triggered the worst recorded flooding in Russia’s Ural Mountains, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes as some of Europe’s biggest rivers swelled to bursting point.

Russia declared an emergency in the Orenburg region near Kazakhstan after the Ural River, Europe’s third longest river, swelled several metres in hours on Friday, and burst through a dam embankment in the city of Orsk.

The river, which rises in the Ural Mountains and flows into the Caspian Sea, will reach dangerous levels on Monday in Orenburg, a city of 500,000 down river from Orsk, and the peak is expected there on April 10, Russia’s emergency ministry said.

More than 10,400 homes across Russia have been flooded, with the Urals, Siberia, the Volga and central regions the worst hit, according to the ministry.

“Dozens of settlements on the territory of the Siberian, Ural and Volga federal districts are flooded as a result of the spring floods,” Emergency Minister Alexander Kurenkov said.

“An increase in air temperatures, active snow melt and river openings are predicted,” the emergency ministry said. “More than 10,400 residential buildings remain flooded in 39 regions.”

Footage from Orsk, 1,800 km (1,100 miles) east of Moscow, showed one man wading through flood water which reached his neck He held his keys in his mouth and a black cat above his head.

The streets were submerged in water with residents and emergency workers using boats to move around the city. One man was shown locking his door in waist-high water.


An emergency was also declared in Tyumen region, one of Russia’s key oil producing areas of Western Siberia, Governor Alexander Moor said.

Rising water was forecast in Siberia’s Ishim and Tobol rivers, tributaries of the Irtysh river, which along with its parent, the Ob, forms the world’s seventh longest river system.

The mayor of Orenburg, Sergei Salmin, said the Ural River was expected to break the previous record of 9.46 metres. It is currently 8.93 metres.

“Absolutely everyone who is in the flood zone needs to leave their homes,” Salmin said. “Do not delay the evacuation! The situation will only get worse in the next two days.”

President Vladimir Putin asked the government to form a special commission to deal with the flooding in Orenburg, Kurgan and Tyumen regions, the Kremlin said. Putin was being kept updated on the situation, it said.

It was not immediately clear why this year’s floods were so bad as the snow melt is an annual event in Russia, one of the coldest countries in the world.

Federal investigators opened a criminal case for negligence and the violation of safety rules over the construction of the 2010 embankment dam in Orsk, which prosecutors said had not been maintained properly.

Another part of the dam collapsed on Monday, drone footage filmed by state news agency TASS showed. The footage showed that swathes of the city appeared to be a vast lake with houses submerged up to their roofs.