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Putin orders flood warning probe

Russia's president has ordered investigators to determine whether more could have been done to prevent the deaths of at least 170 people in severe flooding in the Black Sea region that turned streets into rivers, swept away bridges and inundated thousands of homes as many residents were sleeping.

Vladimir Putin, who was criticised in past years for a delayed or seemingly indifferent response to disasters, flew to the region in southern Russia committed to showing he was taking charge of the situation.

He ordered the head of Russia's investigative agency to establish 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."

Russia has seen a series of natural and man-made disasters in recent years, many of them blamed on ageing infrastructure or lax safety rules.

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 early on Saturday with such speed and volume 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 today that water had been released from the reservoir, but they insisted it did not cause the flooding and the dam had not been breached.

Krymsk received a total of about nine inches of rain overnight, but two inches of that came in less than an hour late on Friday, the meteorological service said.

The heaviest rain fell in Gelendzhik, a popular seaside vacation spot about 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 that 171 bodies had been recovered, 159 of them in and around Krymsk and 10 in Gelendzhik, including five who were electrocuted after a transformer fell into the water.

The majority of the dead were elderly who were unable to escape the sudden deluge.

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