Russia arrests officials after deadly floods
Russia on Sunday announced the arrest of three local officials for negligence during flooding that killed 172 people and politically undermined President Vladimir Putin as he took up his third term.
The Investigative Committee revealed the surprise detentions during a lightning visit to the devastated Black Sea village of Krymsk by Putin's powerful domestic security mastermind Alexander Bastrykin.
The three Krymsk officials and a nearby town mayor now face seven years in prison -- a sentence rarely seen in such cases and one stressing the urgency Putin attaches to the first big disaster to strike since his May return.
"In the course of the investigation, (Krymsk district head) Vasily Krutko, (Krymsk mayor) Vladimir Ulanovsky and (local emergency response chief) Viktor Zhdanov have been detained," a statement said.
It added that nearby Nizhnebakansk village chief Irina Ryabchenko may be detained later on the same charges of failing to properly alert locals about the possible dangers of a fast-approaching heavy thunderstorm.
Most victims died in their sleep in pre-dawn flooding that also destroyed the property of some 30,000 people in the worst such disaster in post-Sovie era.
"Essentially ignoring the weather service forecasts, the suspects did not inform the population about the looming danger and did not take steps to evacuate peole," committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in televised remarks.
Putin himself hinted at possible sackings when he raced to the little southern village for the second time in just a few days on July 15.
State television then showed a remarkable sequence of some 20 minutes during which Putin patiently fielded complaints from irate locals who questioned official accounts of why the floods came.
Many spoke of hearing no flood warning alarms and only receiving text messages on mobile phones that themselves cut off as the storms progressed.
Local news reports have also said those applying for emergency assistance often had to sign documents stating they had received due notice about a potential flood.
"People here think that there was no early warning -- despite the fact that the previous head of the administration said that there was one," Putin told local officials after being briefed by the residents of Krymsk.
"The Investigative Committee must issue an objective assessment of the actions of all officials," he said at the time.
Putin's get-tough image suffered a bruising blow at the start of his first term as president in 2000 when he holidayed while the nation watched in horror as 118 seamen perished in the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk.
The KGB chief has worked hard to show himself in command of the chronic disasters that have since clouded his 12-year rule.
Post-flood recovery work has remained a top item on state television news for much of the past two weeks as images of doctors giving vaccinations mingle those of worker brigades pounding away at roads and homes.
The media campaign has extended to the entire Krasnodar region -- a recent recipient of billions of dollars in contracts and federal assistance linked to preparations for the high-profile Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
"Kyrmsk is undergoing a transformation and normal life is returning," one report on local Krasnodar Plus television declared this week.
The official Investigative Committee meanwhile said that the four officials stood accused of "violating people's constitutionally guaranteed right to life and the legally protected interests of society and the state."
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