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Flooding in Central Asia and southern Russia kills scores and forces tens of thousands to evacuate to higher ground

Protecting the Planet: Severe weather
Protecting the Planet: The impact of climate change on severe weather 21:18

Unusually heavy seasonal rains have left a vast swath of southern Russia and Central Asia reeling from floods, with dozens of people dead in Afghanistan and Pakistan and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes in Kazakhstan and Russia. 

Authorities say the flooding — the atypical intensity of which scientists blame on human-driven climate change — is likely to get worse, with more rain predicted and already swollen rivers bursting their banks.

Scores killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan

Lightning and heavy rains killed at least 36 people in Pakistan, mostly farmers, over three days, emergency response officials said Monday, as a state of emergency was declared in the southwest of the country. Most of the deaths were blamed on farmers being struck by lightning and torrential rain collapsing houses, The Associated Press quoted regional disaster management spokesperson Arfan Kathia as saying Monday. He noted that more rain was expected over the coming week.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in a televised address that he'd ordered authorities to rush aid to the affected regions, where swollen rivers and flash floods have also severely damaged roads. 

Onlookers gaze towards municipal workers using heavy machinery to level the ground after damage due to floodwaters following heavy rains on the outskirts of Quetta on April 15, 2024. BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty

In neighboring Afghanistan, the country's Taliban rulers said Sunday that heavy flooding from seasonal rains had killed at least 33 people and left more than two dozen others injured over three days. Abdullah Janan Saiq, the spokesman for the government's disaster management agency, said the flash floods hit the capital, Kabul, and several other provinces.

He said more than 600 homes were damaged or destroyed completely, with hundreds of acres of farmland destroyed and many farm animals killed.

The Afghan weather service was also forecasting more rain over the coming days across much of the country.

Mass evacuations in Russia and Kazakhstan

There has been widespread flooding in the Russian Urals regions and neighboring Kazakhstan for days, caused by melting mountain ice swelling rivers; it is being exacerbated by heavy rainfall. In some places, only the roofs of houses were visible Monday above murky waters that had engulfed entire neighborhoods.

In Kazakhstan, more than 107,000 people had been evacuated from their homes, TASS state news agency reported. In the capital of the North Kazakhstan Region, Petropavl, the flooding was expected to peak by Tuesday, according to Kazinform agency.

Over 100,000 people evacuated from flood-hit areas of Kazakhstan
Residents survey a flooded area in Petropavl, Kazakhstan, April 13, 2024. Turar Kazangapov/Anadolu/Getty

"Why has it come to this? No one has done anything for 60 years," said Alexander Kuprakov, a Petropavl resident, criticizing the government for having made "no investment" in the area to avoid such a situation.

Elena Kurzayeva, a 67-year-old pensioner in Petropavl, told AFP: "I was taken out yesterday and within 15 minutes the water had come in."

Spring flooding is a regular occurrence but this year, it is much more severe than usual. Scientists agree that climate change caused by humans burning fossil fuels is worsening the risk of extreme weather events such as floods.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said earlier this month that this was the country's worst natural disaster for the last 80 years.

Flooding in Orenburg region
Artist Nikolai Kryuchkov stands on the roof of his flooded house in Orenburg, Russia, April 13, 2024. Alexander Reshetnikov/REUTERS

The floods have already submerged 34,000 homes in Russia's southern Orenburg region, due to the rising Ural River. AFP journalists on Saturday saw residents being evacuated in boats and police vehicles in the regional capital Orenburg.

The Russian emergency services ministry, meanwhile, has predicted that more than 18,000 people could be flooded out of their homes in the Kurgan region, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Water levels in the rivers of Russia's Siberian Tyumen region could also reach all-time highs, RIA cited governor Alexander Moor as saying on Monday, according to the Reuters news agency.

"Waves of large water are coming towards the Kurgan region, the Tyumen region," government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday, Reuters said. "A lot of work has been done there, but we know that the water is treacherous, and therefore there is still a danger of flooding vast areas there."

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