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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Massive Landslide Covers Popular Valley of Geysers

APA view of the Valley of Geysers on the Kamchatka Peninsula in March 2006.
A severe landslide has nearly obliterated one of the country's most noted natural wonders, the Valley of Geysers, officials and environmental activists confirmed Monday.

The valley, in the Kronotsky national reserve on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula famed for its volcanoes, contained about 90 geysers, as well as an array of thermal pools, and is the region's most popular tourist attraction.

A snow-covered mound collapsed Sunday "within seconds" and caused a massive landslide, about 1.5 kilometers long and 180 meters wide, which buried two-thirds of the valley, park ranger Valery Tsypkov said in televised remarks.

The landslide dumped millions of cubic meters of mud and stones and destroyed most of the valley's geysers and dozens of thermal springs, stopping meters away from the valley's only hotel, he said.

Tourists and park personnel had to be evacuated, but no injuries were reported.

"The splendor of the valley has changed beyond recognition," Kronotsky national reserve director Natalya Radugova said in televised remarks.

Some officials were not so skeptical about the loss of the valley. The dam will turn the valley -- that was discovered only in 1941 -- into a thermal lake that could become a new "tourist jewel of Russia," tourism official Denis Lazarev said.

The extent of the damage to the valley's geysers was not immediately known, but experts feared much of them were obliterated.

"We witnessed a unique natural event," said Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of the federal environmental watchdog agency.

"But the consequences of such a natural catastrophe are irreversible," he said.

A sparsely populated peninsula, Kamchatka is located some 6,700 kilometers away from Moscow. It was completely closed to foreigners until 1990, and now attracts thousands of tourists annually with its volcanoes, geysers and national parks.

"This is tragic for humankind, in that we have lost one of the great natural wonders of the world," Laura Williams of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature said in a statement posted on the group's web site.

"But for nature, this is only a blip in the history of the planet's evolution," she said.