MOSCOW (AP) – The worst flooding in 120 years in Russia’s Far East has already forced about 20,000 people from their homes and also made it necessary to airlift two captive brown bears to safety, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday.
Ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius said the evacuations were underway in three regions along the Chinese border in the Far East, 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) east of Moscow, and some of those evacuated have moved into 166 emergency shelters.
The flooding, set off by torrential rains, has already affected 140 towns and villages across the broad area, the ministry said.
The Amur region has been the worst affected, but the ministry said the flooding there has passed its peak. As the rains move east, however, the situation was expected to worsen in the neighboring Kabarovsk and Jewish autonomous regions, Russian news agencies reported, citing Alexander Frolov, chief of the Russian Meteorological Service.
The Amur River, which has reached a record high, is still rising and could flood Komsomolsk-on Amur, a major city in the Khabarovsk region, Frolov said.
Rescuers decided to move the brown bears to higher ground from their home in a tourist camp near the city of Blagoveshchensk as the flood waters approached, the ministry said. Video posted on the ministry’s site shows a helicopter transporting the bears, with them dangling below the aircraft in a cage.
The ministry said it has delivered about 53 tons of food, water and clothing to people affected by the floods, while humanitarian aid and monetary donations also were being sent from around the country.
The floods have called into question mayoral elections in the Amur region on Sept. 8, when local elections will be held across Russia.
“People will not be expected to cross the flooded areas on boats just to tick a box on a ballot,” Nikolai Nevdomsky, the head of the Amur election commission, said in a statement. He said a decision would be made Aug. 27.
More than 30,000 people were involved in the rescue operations, the ministry said.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)