Russia has detained three officials from the Black Sea region of Krymsk in an investigation into their handling of a flood that killed 171 people in the area in early July, the country's main federal investigating body said.
Moscow, eager to deflect any criticism away from Russian President Vladimir Putin, has accused district officials of
failing to issue public warnings about the flood wave on time, which survivors say could have saved lives.
The Russian Investigative Committee said on Sunday the former head of the Krymsk district Vasily Krutko, sacked after the fatal wave swept the region, Krymsk's mayor and the head of the local government's emergency response unit had been arrested.
One other official is also under investigation for negligence but has not been arrested, the body said.
Right to life 'violated'
The official Investigative Committee said that the four officials stood accused of "violating people's constitutionally guaranteed right to life and the legally protected interests of society and the state".
"Essentially ignoring the weather service forecasts, the suspects did not inform the population about the looming danger and did not take steps to evacuate people," committee spokesperson Vladimir Markin said in televised remarks.
He added that the head of the nearby village of Nizhnebakansk may be held later on the same charge of failing to properly alert locals about the possible dangers of a fast-approaching thunderstorm.
Lack of proper warnings left many inhabitants of Krymsk, a mountain town of 57,000 that was the worst hit by the flooding, caught by surprise as water poured into their homes in the middle of the night.
The flooding destroyed thousands of homes, as well as cars, roads and the power network in the "breadbasket" Russian region.
The Krymsk district chiefs now face up to seven years in prison - a sentence rarely seen in such cases and one stressing the urgency Putin attaches to the first big disaster to strike since his return in May.
Putin, a former KGB spy now serving his third term at the Kremlin, is determined to silence any criticism he was too slow in reacting to the flooding and reinforce the image of a statesman leading a strong and well-organised country.
Any decrease in his strong support in the provinces would be another concern for Putin after months of protests against his 12-year rule, mainly in Russia's major cities.