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Emergency declared around Olympic city Sochi because of floods

The Olympic rings are seen in front of the airport of Sochi, the host city for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Alexa
The Olympic rings are seen in front of the airport of Sochi, the host city for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Alexa

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Regional authorities declared a state of emergency in Sochi and evacuated a village because of flooding and mudslides less than five months before the Russian city hosts the Winter Olympics.

Knee-high puddles in the city centre caused long traffic jams after heavy rain, a Reuters photographer said, and firefighters were pumping water from the streets.

An emergency services spokeswoman said a state of emergency had been declared but that water levels were receding on Wednesday in Sochi.

"Now the situation has started to stabilize," she said.

A highway leading to some of the Alpine event venues was flooded by up to 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) of water, which emergency workers said they were trying to drain, the regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

Residents were evacuated from Kepsha, a village near the highway, that was threatened by mudslides, it said.

Alexander Zhukov, the head of the Russian Olympic Committee, told state television he had no doubt Sochi would be ready for the Games, which open on February 7 and will be a crucial part of President Vladimir Putin's legacy.

Not only would Sochi be ready to welcome world athletes and guests but Russia's hosting will be "high level," Zhukov told Rossiya-24 television in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

Putin, who has staked his personal reputation and Russia's prestige on a successful Olympics, ordered officials last week to quickly overcome failures and delays in preparations, saying he expected nothing less than a "brilliant Games".

The cost of hosting the Games is expected to rise to $50 billion dollars, much more than expected initially and more than any other Olympics.

Work is still underway on venues and other infrastructure, where an International Olympic Committee delegation was making its final inspection of sites before the Games on Wednesday.

Much of the city and Olympic village resembles a muddy construction site. Poor weather has plagued preparations in the sprawling Black Sea city, which rises from the palm-lined subtropical shore to mountains of the Caucasus range.

Passengers had to wade through ankle-deep water at Sochi airport earlier this month during heavy rain, and a state of emergency was declared in March due to flooding.

The rainfall is due to continue this week, according to the emergency services, which said they were using drones to monitor the situation in the worst-affected areas.

(Reporting by Ludmila Danilova and Maxim Shemetov, Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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