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Ice bombing eases Siberia floods

YAKUTSK, Russia -- Russian bombers have destroyed a massive ice jam that had been forcing floodwater into the Siberian city of Yakutsk.

The area had been inundated by floodwater after an 18-mile plug of ice clogged the nearby river Lena.

Residents of the city are still braced for another wave of water as the swollen river now flows freely towards the Arctic.

But a spokeswoman for the Yakutsk administration told Reuters the floodwaters had receded after the aerial bombing.

The spring thaw has flooded villages in Siberia, causing thousands to flee. CNN's Steve Harrigan reports (May 21)

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Yakutsk, home to almost 200,000, is the last large settlement in the path of the river Lena, which tracks northward for about 860 miles through the Siberian tundra into the Arctic ocean.

Even though flooding occurs in the Lena river basin and other regions each spring, this year's flooding is the worst for over a century.

The record water levels have been blamed on unusually warm spring weather that has caused many major rivers to burst their banks and an 18-mile ice jam clogging the Lena.

Sukhoi-24 bomber jets have dropped a total of 72 bombs on the huge ice floe in the last few days.

A spokeswoman for the Yakutsk administration told Reuters that the water level in Yakutsk had fallen from 9.17 metres to 8.87 in three hours.

However there is still danger that the swollen river will surge into Yakutsk.

"The situation remains very dangerous but now there is hope that the big wave will pass by," the spokeswoman told Reuters.

Floodwaters from the Lena had earlier destroyed most of the upstream town of Lensk, forcing evacuation of most of its 30,000 residents.

Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Marina Ryklina told the Associated Press that so far five residents had been killed and two more were unaccounted for.

Authorities in Yakutsk have ordered residents to take cover at home on Tuesday and prepare for possible flooding.

Hospitals have discharged all patients who are able to walk and relocated the others to the top floors.

Armies of emergency workers are using heavy trucks to pile sand and earth on dykes and levees around the city in an attempt to lower the risk of flooding.

The ministry has also banned the sale of strong alcohol in the city.

"If the water hits the city, it will be very cold and people will start warming themselves up the usual Russian way. It will be much easier for us to save them if they are sober," a spokeswoman for the ministry told Reuters.

Buses mounted with loudspeakers are driving through Yakutsk urging residents to "take children, money and warm clothing" and flee their homes if they hear an air-raid siren -- a signal that floodwaters will inundate the city, said Reuters.

City authorities have opened 35 evacuation centres with capacity for 20,000 people.

But many residents have refused to leave their homes, electing to wait out the flood in attics and roofs for fear of looting.

Emergency officials have been distributing food and drinking water to stranded residents by boat.

People in nearby villages have driven their livestock onto higher ground, some tethering their cows to highway markers lining roads, said the Associated Press.

Further southwest, authorities in the republic of Tyva on the border with Mongolia have begun to evacuate residents from the capital Kyzyl after the swelling Yenisey river partially flooded some suburbs, Reuters said.

• Russian Government

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