Serbia has ordered the evacuation of at least 12 towns situated along the Sava River after a fresh surge of floodwaters wreaked havoc and forced more people to flee their homes across the Balkan region.
At least 47 people have died after the region’s worst rainfall in more than a century inundated large swathes of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia in recent days and unleashed more than 3,000 landslides that swept away homes and unearthed land mines from the region’s 1992-95 war.
The fresh evacution orders included one for the town of Obrenovac, where soldiers, police and volunteers worked around the clock to protect the coal-fired Nikola Tesla power plant, which supplies electricity for half of Serbia and most of the capital Belgrade.
Emergency crews have so far protected the plant by building high walls of sandbags, but some of the barriers were destroyed when a powerful nine-foot-high surge of floodwater burst through them on Monday.
Hundreds of people in the country were evacuated by helicopters and buses, joining about 7,800 residents already forced from their homes since Friday. Hundreds more were believed trapped in the higher floors of buildings, without power or phone lines.
In Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija called the flood damage “immense” and even compared it to the destruction during the country’s 1992-95 war.
Lagumdzija said more than a quarter of the country’s population of 3.8 million “has been affected by the floods” after the heaviest rainfalls on record began last week.
“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.
He said the flooding had destroyed about 100,000 houses and 230 schools and hospitals and left a million people without drinking water.
In Orasje, a Bosnian border town, frantic efforts were being made to prevent the Sava from rushing through broken barriers. Ideas included dropping old trucks from helicopters or covering gaps with wire frames and then reinforcing with sandbags.
The emergency commander in the town, Fahrudin Solak, said the decaying corpses of drowned farm animals littered the area.
“We are sending out mobile incinerators and we have asked for international assistance, to send us more incinerators,” he said.
“The floods have triggered more than 2,000 landslides in Bosnia. Aside from sweeping away homes and barns, the walls of mud and earth have carried some of the estimated 100,000 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,” Lagumdzija said.
Neighbouring Croatia has also evacuated thousands of people along Sava.