Why Did Russian Officials Withhold News of Flooding From Krymsk?

Yesterday, the New York Times published another one of those stories that raises a huge question, which it then fails to address. Most of the 170 deaths by flooding in the Black Sea coastal area occurred in the town of Krymsk when water ran down hills and into town in torrents. Ellen Barry reports (sort of) that:

… it came as a shock, and then as the focus of anger, when officials acknowledged that they had been aware of a threat to Krymsk at 10 the previous night, but had not taken measures to rouse its sleeping residents.

A resident asked:

“If they knew at 11, why didn’t they warn us? What are we, hunks of meat? Are we not people?”

Was it the usual — fear of starting a panic, being held responsible for incurring the expense of an evacuation when it might turn out one wasn’t needed? One explanation:

The Emergencies Ministry said it sent warnings out by text message, but some local residents said they never received the alerts. Ministry head Vladimir Puchkov [said] “A system to warn the residents was set up. … But, unfortunately, not everyone was warned early enough.”

What makes the New York Times story even more lacking was that two days earlier, July 9, Masha Gessen reported in a blog post in the Times itself (don’t you people talk to each other?) that:

… a young woman named Yulia Andropova on her page on vkontakte.ru, a Russian social network [apparently] writing from Krymsk … described how the town may have been deliberately flooded to spare the bigger city of Novorossiysk.

“Everyone is keeping quiet about this now, but last night my father was working and he says that they called an emergency meeting in the middle of the night to decide whether to open the floodgates of the Neberdzhaevskoye Reservoir,” Andropova wrote .…“And what do you think? Of course they decided to open the floodgates! They sacrificed Krymsk and still didn’t manage to prevent the flooding of Novorossiysk. Good job. But at least they should have warned people the water was coming!

Gessen added that:

But late Saturday night, two expert bloggers posted detailed analyses of the region’s topography, both concluding that Krymsk was probably flooded after heavy rain over nearby mountains turned normally tame rivers into monstrous roaring streams.

One blogger, by the name of Eugeny Shultz, concluded that the reservoir had probably overflowed on its own. No one had opened any floodgates; in fact, there are no floodgates at this particular reservoir.

In any event, returning to Barry’s story:

The flood in this city of 57,000 in southern Russia is the first disaster to hit the country since Vladimir V. Putin returned to the presidency, amid uncertain public support for his government. Its aftermath has riveted national attention as a measure of the state’s effectiveness, including visits from celebrities and volunteer efforts backed by pro-government and opposition political parties.

Mr. Putin has been damaged in the past by appearing indifferent to disasters — most acutely in 2000, when he failed to immediately return from a vacation to handle the sinking of a nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk. Russia declined initial rescue offers from other countries, and all 118 sailors trapped onboard died.

Gesen again:

The post was reposted hundreds, possibly thousands of times on different social networks. Prominent bloggers and journalists quoted it to show the Putin regime’s utter disregard for human life — as if further proof were needed.

The question begs to be asked: will this be Vladimir Putin’s Katrina?