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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

400,000 Lack Safe Drinking Water

ReutersA woman sorting through what was left of her possessions Wednesday after floods ruined her home in the Stavropol region.
Nine southern regions scrambled on Wednesday to prevent an outbreak of disease after devastating floods left 400,000 people without safe drinking water.

The flood waters killed large numbers of livestock, whose carcasses are now rotting in the heat, and unearthed burial sites of anthrax-infected cattle, said Deputy Health Minister Gennady Onishchenko, who had just returned from touring the area.

"Anthrax spores tend to remain [in the soil] for a long time. If washed out, such burial sites can become a source of potential danger," Onishchenko said on NTV television.

"We do not expect major outbreaks, but some cases of the disease can occur," he said, adding that all unvaccinated cattle in the affected areas will be inoculated for anthrax.

The broader concern, Onishchenko said, was that the lack of sanitary drinking water could cause an outbreak of hepatitis A and some intestinal infections.

"The most immediate problem is to restore the normal water supply," he said. He said 400,000 people lived in the affected areas.

Since heavy rain began falling a week ago, flood waters have swept through vast territories in the Stavropol and Krasnodar regions and the republics of Adygeya, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and North Ossetia. The flooding left 110 towns and villages without electricity and destroyed thousands of houses. The death toll remained at 72 Wednesday, but was expected to rise since some people were still missing.

Television reports showed residents of flooded villages wading through knee-high water and carrying their belongings out of mud-soaked homes, despite warnings from health authorities not to step into the filthy water, and from rescue workers not to venture inside damaged houses. Rescue workers fear the half-ruined, water-logged homes could collapse completely.

"Everything I have left is in there; all I have are [the clothes] on my back," Irina Petrova, a resident of the Cheredinovsky village in the Krasnodar region, was shown saying on RTR television while pointing in the direction of her ruined house. Petrova cried as she tried to talk rescue workers into helping her get inside what was left of her house to recover some of her things.

Other residents of Cheredinovsky, who lost most of their cattle in the disaster, were shown doing laundry and washing other rescued belongings in the water where the animals had drowned.

In the neighboring Stavropol region, health authorities have been distributing leaflets warning residents not to drink anything but bottled or boiled water, not to go into damaged houses or eat meat unless they know where it comes from.

A squad has been set up in Stavropol to find and destroy the carcasses of dead animals in an effort to counter the threat of epidemics, Olga Balabanova, deputy head of the regional health inspectorate, said in an interview from Stavropol.

The region has allocated 10 million rubles (about $317,000) on measures designed to avert possible outbreaks, including vaccination of residents against hepatitis A, Balabanova said.

Interfax reported that the area around a large burial site of anthrax-infected cattle in the village of Kangly near Mineralniye Vody in the Stavropol region has been disinfected, while other similar burial sites are being closely watched.

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu continued touring the affected areas Wednesday, promising to cope with the consequences of the flooding in at least two regions, Adygeya and Kabardino-Balkaria, by the end of the week.

His deputy Ruslan Tsalikov said in Moscow that water levels in the Terek and Kuban rivers remained dangerously high and new floods might sweep the region in the coming days. Speaking in the Federation Council, he said his ministry remained on alert to minimize the consequences of any new flooding.

A ministry spokesman in Moscow, Viktor Beltsov, said four regions were in danger of more flooding: Dagestan, Krasnodar, Stavropol and North Ossetia.

According to the latest figures released by the Emergency Situations Ministry on Wednesday, the floods destroyed 4,848 and damaged 11,342 residential buildings, while 269 bridges, 1,500 kilometers of roads and 80 kilometers of powerlines were destroyed or badly damaged.

The estimated cost of the damage was almost 13 billion rubles ($412 million).