Thousands flee Balkan floods

Thousands of people living in the Balkans have been forced to leaves their homes as the river Danube reaches its highest levels in more than a century.

    The Danube has reached its highest point in 111 years

    Swollen by heavy rain and spring melting of snow, the Danube, the second-longest river in Europe, hit its highest point for 111 years over the weekend in Romania and Bulgaria and reached record levels in Serbia.

    Around 3,000 residents of the village of Rast in Romania were evacuated on Monday before the surging river entirely submerged their homes. Some 115 houses were destroyed and another 600 damaged.

    The district chief, Nicolae Giugea, said 10,000 residents of four villages in the area were on standby for evacuation if the water continued to rise.

    According to the Romanian environment and water management ministry, the Danube was flowing at double the average speed for this time of year - a record 15,800 cubic metres per second.

    Controlled flooding

    In the southern Romanian port of Calarasi on Monday, a recently opened riverside hotel was flooded causing major damage to the building.

    Dozens of tourists and personnel were evacuated.

    Melting snow and heavy rain
    contributed to the flooding

    Romanian authorities were using controlled flooding of agricultural land to reduce the pressure of the swollen river on dykes built to protect populated areas.

    Several border crossings over the river separating Romania and Bulgaria were closed temporarily.

    Authorities restricted traffic at the Giurgiu border crossing, with hundreds of cars waiting on the Romanian side of the border.

    In Bulgaria, a state of emergency was being maintained along the Danube, with the government warning the water levels were expected to reach a peak of up to 990cm in the northwestern town of Vidin on Wednesday.

    The situation was made worse in Serbia by the high level of water in swollen smaller rivers that join the Danube. These include the Tisa and Begej, which meet at the town of Titel, north of Belgrade.

    Over the weekend, the river reached an all-time high of 9.41m near Veliko Gradiste, 100km east of Belgrade.

    In the agriculture-rich northern province of Vojvodina, the flooding and heavy rains submerged some 10,000 hectares of farmland and turned another 200,000 into mud and slush.

    In the eastern Serbian town of Smederevo, authorities dispatched all city workers to fight flooding as the waters submerged parts of the town's train station, bringing rail traffic to a halt.

    Dyke defence

    Maintaining flood defences is now
    the priority for authorities

    In Belgrade, where the Danube meets the Sava, the situation was under control on Monday morning, although authorities there said they were working to maintain 250km of dykes.

    "Our principal concern is the survival of the dykes," Nikola Marjanovic, of Serbia's water authority, told B92 radio.

    Goran Kamcev, head of the Serbia flood prevention task force, told Reuters: "The situation is under control along the whole flow of the Danube through Serbia."

    "We now have to watch out for the longstanding pressure on the barriers, with water expected to stay high for some 10 to 15 days. It could cause the dykes to leak or even break and our teams on the ground have to stay vigilant."

    Much of the Balkans were hit by floods last year that drowned scores of people and caused damage to houses, farmland and infrastructure running into hundreds of millions of dollars.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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