MOSCOW (AP) — The death toll rose to at least 150 on Sunday from severe flooding in the Black Sea region of southern Russia that turned streets into rivers, swept away bridges and inundated thousands of homes as many residents were sleeping.
President Vladimir Putin flew to the region and ordered investigators to determine whether more could have been done to prevent the deaths.
Torrential rains dropped up to a foot of water in less than 24 hours, which the state meteorological service said was five times the monthly average.
The water rushed into the hard-hit town of Krymsk with such speed and volume early Saturday that residents said they suspected that water had been released from a reservoir in the mountains above. Local officials denied this, saying it was not technically possible to open the sluices.
Federal investigators, however, acknowledged Sunday that water had been released from the reservoir, but they insisted it did not cause the flooding and the dam had not been breached.
Heavy rain also fell in Gelendzhik, a popular seaside vacation spot about 200 kilometers (120 miles) up the coast from Sochi, where preparations are under way for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Novorossiisk, a major Black Sea port, also was affected.
The Interior Ministry said Sunday that 150 bodies had been recovered, 139 of them in Krymsk and nine in Gelendzhik. The majority of the dead were elderly who were unable to escape the sudden deluge.
Krymsk residents described a wave of water that washed over the hoods of cars and inundated one-story homes. Some sought refuge on roofs and in trees.
Putin arrived Saturday evening and viewed the damage from the air. Television footage of Krymsk shot from Putin's helicopter showed the city of 57,000 people partially submerged in muddy water. The city stadium looked more like a lake.
Across the region, more than 5,000 homes were flooded.
Putin ordered the head of Russia's investigative agency to determine whether enough had been done to warn people about the floods. Federal prosecutors also said they were investigating whether the population had been properly protected from "natural and technological catastrophes."
As an indication of the lingering concern over the condition of the water reservoir, Putin sent Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov to inspect the dam. Puchkov reported Sunday that he had flown over the dam in a helicopter and saw no evidence of any damage.