Ukraine: rush to evacuate nearby areas as floods triggered after Kakhovka dam destroyed
Ukrainian authorities have ordered thousands of residents to evacuate as officials raced to check cooling systems at a nearby nuclear power station
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Ukraine has accused Russian forces of blowing up a major dam and hydroelectric power station which has collapsed and could unleash 4.8 billion gallons of water, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
The Kakhovka dam is in a part of southern Ukraine that Russia controls and the Ukrainian authorities have ordered residents downriver to evacuate, warning it could flood Kherson and other areas.
Homes, streets and businesses have already been flooded downstream and emergency crews have begun evacuations.
Ukraine’s nuclear operator Energoatom said in a Telegram statement that the blowing up of the dam “could have negative consequences for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant” but at the moment the situation is “controllable”.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Twitter its experts are closely monitoring the situation at the power station upstream and there is “no immediate nuclear safety risk” at the facility.
Officials have raced to check cooling systems at the nuclear power station while authorities have expressed concern about supplies of drinking water to the south in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
Ukraine accused Russian forces of blowing up the Kakhovka dam and hydroelectric power station on the Dnieper River, while Russian officials blamed Ukrainian military strikes in the contested area.
The Russian-installed mayor of Nova Kakhovka, Vladimir Leontyev, said on Tuesday (6 June) that numerous strikes on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant destroyed its valves and “water from the Kakhovka reservoir began to uncontrollably flow downstream”.
Mr Leontyev said the strikes were “a very serious terrorist act” and Moscow-appointed authorities are “preparing for the worst consequences” but he did not urge an evacuation of city residents.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis, Ukrainian officials said.
Footage on social media from what appeared to be a monitoring camera overlooking the dam showed a flash, explosion and breakage of the dam.
‘Another act of terror’
Oleksandr Prokudin, the head of the Kherson Regional Military Administration, said in a video posted to Telegram shortly before 7am that “the Russian army has committed yet another act of terror” and said water will reach “critical levels” within five hours.
Energoatom said it will continue to monitor the situation together with the IAEA.
Ukraine and Russia have previously accused each other of targeting the dam with attacks. Last October Zelensky predicted that Russia would destroy the dam to cause a flood.
Authorities, experts and residents have expressed concerns about water flows through and over the Kakhovka dam for months.
It is not immediately clear whether either side benefits from the damage to the dam, since both Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-held lands are at risk of flooding.
Patricia Lewis, director of the International Security Programme at the Chatham House think tank in London, said apportioning blame is difficult but “there are all sorts of reasons why Russia would do this.”
She said: “There were reports (last autumn) of Russians having mined the reservoir. The question we should pose is why the Ukrainians would do this to themselves, given this is Ukrainian territory.”
Experts said previously the dam structure was suffering from disrepair.
David Helms, a retired American scientist who has monitored the reservoir since the start of the war, said it was not clear if the damage was deliberate or simple neglect from Russian forces occupying the facility. He reserved judgement, noting a Russian history of attacking dams.