Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes after melting snow triggered the worst recorded flooding in Russia’s Ural mountains.

Russia declared an emergency in the Orenburg region near Kazakhstan after the Ural River, the third longest in Europe, swelled several metres in hours on Friday and burst through a dam in the city of Orsk.

A criminal probe has been launched to investigate suspected construction violations that may have caused the dam to break.

The river, which rises in the Ural Mountains and flows into the Caspian Sea, will reach dangerous levels in Orenburg on Monday and is expected to peak there on Wednesday.

The city of about 500,000 people is down river from Orsk.

The floods have forced more than 4,000 people, including 885 children, to evacuate, the regional government said.

A flooded street in Orsk. Pic: AP

Rescuers wade through floodwaters in Orsk
Rescuers wade through floodwaters in Orsk

More than 10,400 homes across Russia have been flooded, with the Urals, Siberia, the Volga and central regions the worst hit, according to the ministry.

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On Sunday, the level in Orsk reached 9.7m, according to Russia’s water level information site AllRivers.

The previous record was 9.46 metres.

Footage from Orsk, 1,800 km (1,100 miles) east of Moscow, showed one man wading through flood water which reached his neck.

He held his keys in his mouth and a black cat above his head.

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People evacuate their homes after flooding in Orsk. Pic: AP
People evacuate their homes after flooding in Orsk. Pic: AP

The streets were submerged in water with residents and emergency workers using boats to move around the city.

“Absolutely everyone who is in the flood zone needs to leave their homes,” the mayor of Orenburg Sergei Salmin said.

“Do not delay the evacuation! The situation will only get worse in the next two days.”

President Putin asked the government to form a special commission to deal with the flooding in Orenburg, Kurgan and Tyumen regions.

Mr Putin was being kept updated on the situation, the Kremlin said.