‘We’re like Noah’s ark’ says animal shelter in flooded Russian city

By Thomson Reuters Apr 12, 2024 | 7:12 AM

ORENBURG, Russia (Reuters) – The roaring sound of water pumps filled the deserted streets of the flood-stricken Russian city of Orenburg on Friday as people scrambled to heed official warnings to escape.

The city of 550,000 about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow is grappling with a historic deluge after Europe’s third-longest river, the Ural, burst its banks. Swiftly melting snow has already forced more than 120,000 people to evacuate in Russia’s Ural Mountains, Siberia and Kazakhstan.

It is the worst flooding seen in the areas in nearly a century. The Ural River, which cuts through Orenburg, rose to 11.43 metres (37.5 ft) on Friday, up from 10.87 metres (35.5 ft) a day earlier.

Mayor Sergei Salmin called the situation “critical”.

Drone footage showed much of the city has turned into a vast lake, dotted with the roofs of houses – at least 12,000 of which have been flooded – peeking up above the brown water.

For many in low-lying homes, little can be done to save their belongings.

“All the furniture in my house has risen by 50 cm (1.5 ft),” local resident Vyacheslav told Reuters as he sat in an idling motorboat and gazed over his shoulder at his two-storey brick home, partially submerged in brackish water.

“Judging by the water levels, all the furniture, some household appliances and interior decorating materials are ruined,” he said. “It’s a colossal amount of money.”

A local animal shelter finds itself hosting over 350 animals, a mix of strays and family pets dropped off by owners fleeing for dry ground.

“We’re like Noah’s Ark,” shelter director Yulia Babenko told Reuters, rows of animal cages holding cats behind her.

Volunteers from other Russian regions have organised aid for the animals, but Babenko said she had so far received scant assistance from authorities.

Streets in another district of Orenburg had become fast-flowing rivers.

Water pumps roared outside a now-empty medical clinic whose furniture had been stacked high to stay dry.

Director Svetlana Sudareva said she had tried to prepare for the disaster, discharging patients, cancelling upcoming appointments and removing key medical equipment.

“We mobilised in time,” she said. “I think everything is going to recover. And I think that we, after the epidemiological measures – I hope that we will also recover.”

(Reporting by Reuters in Orenburg; Writing by Lucy Papachristou in London; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Philippa Fletcher)