Moscow : Russia's Valley of the Geysers, an area on the Pacific Ocean's Kamchatka Peninsula and listed on UNESCO's World Heritage list, was all but destroyed by a flood of water, mud and debris, the country's Natural Resources Ministry said Monday.
"The Valley of Geysers is factually eliminated," the ministry said in a statement, Itar-Tass reported.
"It's still too early to say that it's impossible to bring (the valley) back," the ministry said, adding a special commission was at the site, 7,000 km east of Moscow, to determine whether the site of dozens of eruptive hot springs could be salvaged.
Ministry officials said they would consult with UNESCO and the United Nations Environmental Programme to determine the damage done.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement that the 4 square-kilometre area was flooded in three minutes after a landslide brought muddy water, rocks and trees into the valley.
Though news of the disaster broke only on Monday, the flooding occurred Sunday, officials said.
"The landslide blocked (a nearby) river and due to the dam that formed a large part of the geysers was flooded," the international environmental organisation said in a statement carried in Russian by Interfax.
"The size of the occurrence is unpleasantly striking," the WWF said. "All are used to people being the reason for these sorts of catastrophes. But here it's the opposite – nature destroyed its own treasure."
The valley was opened on the remote Russian peninsula as a natural preserve in 1941 after discovery by scientists Tatyana Ustinova and Anisifor Krupenin. There are some 90 geysers, one of which – named Grot – is among the world's 10 biggest.
The Russian news agency said a similar flood had occurred in 1981 and that the park had recovered from it.
Some of the geysers, which spewed steam every two to eight hours, erupted up to 30 feet into the air.
"This is a tragedy for humankind: We have lost one of the greatest wonders of the world," said Laura Williams of WWF.