MOSCOW: Fifteen people were killed and another six still missing after an illegally built dam collapsed at a gold mine in a remote Siberian settlement on Saturday, in the latest deadly accident to hit Russia.
The dam on the Seiba River in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk burst and flooded several cabins where more than 70 workers lived, Russian authorities said.
Icy and muddy floodwaters hit the cabins located near the village of Shchetinkino at around 6:00 am as the workers were resting.
About 300 people, six helicopters and six boats were involved in a search and rescue mission but the operation was to be suspended for the night, officials said.
Officials said the dam had been built in breach of safety rules and claimed that the authorities were not aware of its existence.
President Vladimir Putin ordered officials to provide assistance to the victims and identify the reasons for the accident, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Investigators said they have opened a criminal probe into a breach of safety rules.
Six people were still missing, Alyona Aleksishina, spokeswoman for the regional branch of the emergencies ministry, told AFP.
A total of 16 victims received medical aid, and four of them were airlifted to a regional hospital, authorities said.
A team of doctors including a neurosurgeon were dispatched to the scene from the city of Krasnoyarsk, which is located some 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) east of Moscow.
Footage broadcast on national television showed the remote settlement surrounded by the woods and mountains, the ground covered in light snow.
Overall, about 180 workers were thought to be living at the remote mining site.
An unidentified worker from the mine told Govorit Moskva, a Moscow-based radio station, that people had been caught by surprise.
"People were sleeping, apparently they did not even understand anything," he said.
He described the accommodation as hastily built cabins, adding: "That says it all." The worker said there were four such dams in the area that had been built more than three years ago, adding that smaller breaches had happened in the past.
The dam was built in violation of "every single norm," the head of the local government, Yury Lapshin, said in televised remarks.
Rains could have eroded the dam, officials said. The Krasnoyarsk region will observe a day of mourning on Monday.
A number of top regional officials including governor Alexander Uss, prosecutors and inspectors went to the scene of the tragedy.
Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova was overseeing the delivery of aid to the injured.
The dam belonged to the Sibzoloto holding company which has not released any comment on the incident so far.
Deadly accidents are relatively common in Russia because of lax safety rules, bad management and Soviet-era infrastructure.
In 2009, 75 people were killed in a massive flood at Russia's biggest hydroelectric plant in the Khakassia region of Siberia.