Towns cleared as river swells
Published 19/05/2014 | 11:09
Serbian authorities have ordered the urgent evacuation of 12 villages and towns along the raging Sava River, including one where soldiers, police and volunteers have been working around the clock to protect the country's main power plant.
The coal-fired Nikola Tesla plant, which supplies electricity for half of Serbia and most of Belgrade, lies in the flood-hit town of Obrenovac, 16 miles upstream of the capital. Emergency crews have so far defended the power plant by building high walls of sandbags but it is not clear whether those will withstand the force of an upcoming river surge.
Serbian police chief Nebojsa Stefanovic ordered the town to be completely evacuated of civilians, along with 11 villages along the Sava.
It comes as Serbia and Bosnia struggle with the worst flooding in south-eastern Europe in more than a century. At least 35 people have died in five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain.
Entire towns and villages are underwater, thousands of hills have crumpled into landslides and tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.
The death toll is expected to rise further as flood waters recede after the worst rainfall in 120 years of records.
The situation in Obrenovac is critical, said Predrag Maric, a Serbian emergency official. The Sava flood wave is expected to reach Obrenovac and Belgrade later today and peak by Wednesday.
Some 7,800 people have already been evacuated from the town, where many homes are completely submerged by water. But another 2,000 are still believed trapped in the higher floors of buildings there, without power or phone lines.
In Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija called the flood damage "immense" and compared it to the carnage during the country's 1992-95 war that killed at least 100,000 people and left millions homeless.
He said the flooding had destroyed about 100,000 houses and 230 schools and hospitals and left a million people without drinking water.
"The only difference from the war is that less people have died," he said. "The country is devastated... this is something that no war in the history of this country" ever accomplished.
In Orasje, a Bosnian border town, frantic efforts are being made to prevent the Sava further surging through broken barriers. Ideas included dropping old trucks from helicopters or covering the gaps with wire frames and then reinforcing with sandbags.
The emergency commander in the town, Fahrudin Solak, said the decaying remains of drowned farm animals now represent a major health risk.
"We are sending out mobile incinerators and we have asked for international assistance, to send us more incinerators to prevent diseases," he said.
Floods have also triggered more than 3,000 landslides across the Balkans. Aside from sweeping away home and barns, the landslides have carried land mines left over from the region's war, along with their warning signs, to entirely new, often unknown, locations.
"Landslides and land mines devastated very fertile land," Mr Lagumdzija said.