RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin at the weekend ordered investigators to find out if enough was done to prevent 150 people being killed in floods in southern Russia after flying to the region to deal with the first big disaster of his new presidency.

Mr Putin, who was criticised for his slow reaction to disasters earlier in his career, said after visiting the flood zone on Saturday that money would be put aside for building new homes for victims of the worst flooding in decades in Krasnodar, a relatively rich region with agriculture and tourism industries.

An Interior Ministry crisis centre said 144 people had been killed in the flooding after two months' average rainfall fell in a few hours on Friday night. Most of the dead were drowned, many of them elderly.

Police said survivors climbed into trees and onto roofs to stay above the waters, which flooded entire ground floors of some buildings.

Rains continued in some coastal areas yesterday, including the hardest hit town, Krymsk, where 139 people had been found dead, Russian newswires reported.

Rail traffic resumed yesterday after being suspended on Saturday and a spokesman at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, the main outlet for wheat from the world's second-largest exporter and an important loading port for crude oil, said crude loadings would restart yesterday.

The spokesman did not say when grain exports would resume. Power was still being restored to parts of the port, he said. Almost 30000 homes were also without electricity and gas, emergency officials said.

The consequences of the flash flood could be more lasting for Mr Putin, though he moved swiftly on Saturday to show he was on top of the rescue effort.

It was the first major disaster in Russia since he returned to the Kremlin for a third term as president after a four-year interlude as prime minister. The former KGB spy has increasingly struggled to project his customary image of mastery since the outbreak of protests against his rule last December.

In his 12 years in power, both as president and prime minister, Russia has been plagued by natural and man-made disasters that have laid bare a longstanding shortfall in investment and management of the country's transport and infrastructure. These include deadly forest fires in 2010 and the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000, which killed 118 sailors and officers. Mr Putin was accused of responding slowly to the Kursk disaster because attempts by foreign rescue teams to save the sailors were initially not allowed.

Reuters