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August 23, 2009

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Death toll hits 66 as more hydro blast victims found

RUSSIAN authorities were reportedly warned in 1998 that Siberia's massive Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric power plant had fallen into serious neglect and was unsafe, more than a decade before this week's deadly accident.

The death toll rose to 66 yesterday as rescuers continued to drain the dam's destroyed turbine room and recovered 19 more bodies amid the twisted metal and concrete wreckage from Monday's unexplained explosion.

Nine workers were still missing from the accident, which has highlighted the dangers of Russia's creaking infrastructure.

Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry warned back in 1998 that the dam had fallen into dangerous neglect, according to a report by the business daily Kommersant.

The same ministry forecast in 2005 that decaying infrastructure would be the cause of most technological accidents in the coming years, saying more than 60 percent of Russia's water pipes, sewage, heating and electricity networks needed urgent replacement.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who on Friday toured the crippled plant, Russia's largest hydroelectric facility, signed an order yesterday giving 1 million rubles (US$31,500) in compensation to each of the families of those killed in the accident.

The order also included payments of 100,000 rubles in a lump sum to each of those injured, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Russia's finance ministry will allocate the money from its reserve funds to the government of Khakasia, the remote southern Siberian region where the power plant is located.


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