Death toll rises as worst floods in over a century hit Balkans

River Sava continues rising threatening Serbia’s biggest power plant

“These are the kind of waters not seen in 1,000 years, let alone 100”: aerial view of the flooded city of Brcko, on the northern border of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia. Photograph: Aado Ruvic/Reuters

“These are the kind of waters not seen in 1,000 years, let alone 100”: aerial view of the flooded city of Brcko, on the northern border of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia. Photograph: Aado Ruvic/Reuters

 

Soldiers, police and volunteers fought to protect power plants in Serbia from rising flood waters yesterday, as the death toll from the Balkan region’s worst rainfall in more than a century reached 44.

Twelve bodies were recovered from the Serbian town of Obrenovac, 30km southwest of the capital, Belgrade. “The situation is catastrophic,” prime minister Aleksandar Vucic said, warning that the death toll would probably rise further.

Russian cargo planes carrying boats, generators and food joined rescue teams from around Europe and thousands of local volunteers in evacuating people and building flood defences after the river Sava, swollen by days of torrential rain, burst its banks.

Rains eased and flood waters receded yesterday in some of the worst-hit areas of Serbia and Bosnia, but the Sava was forecast to continue rising.


Evacuated
Serbia’s EPS power utility said a fresh flood wave from the Sava and Mlava rivers threatened the Nikola Tesla and Kostolac power plants. Capacity has already been cut back at the Nikola Tesla plant, in Obrenovac, Serbia’s largest.

The Mlava overwhelmed sandbag flood defences yesterday morning near Kostolac, threatening to flood coal mines and the plant.

Soldiers and police were joined by power plant workers in trying to divert the water, digging up a road in one area. Villagers nearby were evacuated, many of them refugees from the wars in Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s.

Kostolac meets 20 per cent of Serbia’s electricity needs. Flooding had already cut Serbian power generation by 40 percent, forcing the cash-strapped country to boost imports.

The prime minister said a fire and flooding of surface mines at the 1,300 megawatt (MW) Kolubara coal-fired power plant, southwest of Belgrade, had caused damage of “at least €100 million”.

The economic impact of the floods is likely to be huge, devastating the agricultural sector vital to both the Serbian and Bosnian economies.

“These are the kind of waters not seen in 1,000 years, let alone 100,” Mr Vucic told a televised cabinet session.The premier said 12 bodies had been recovered from Obrenovac after waters dropped from a peak of 3 million. At least three more have been reported dead elsewhere in Serbia.

In Bosnia, 19 people were confirmed dead by Saturday, with nine bodies recovered from the northeastern town of Doboj, after what the regional police chief described as a “tsunami” of water 3-4m high.

A Reuters cameraman at the scene said half the town was still submerged. Bosnian soldiers distributed food and medical supplies by truck, boat and bulldozer. Cranes lifted medical workers into the top floors of some homes and removed stranded residents from others.


Damage
Zeljka Cvijanovic, prime minister of the autonomous Bosnian Serb Republic, compared the devastation to the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, in which 100,000 people died.

“The damage is such that we cannot recall even after the war,” she told reporters.

In Croatia, the government said one person had died and two were missing in flooded villages along the Sava, in an eastern corner of the country, near Bosnia and Serbia. The army used amphibious vehicles to help evacuate 3,000 people.

“I carried my kids out on my back, then waited 12 hours to be rescued myself,” said Obrenovac resident Dragan Todorovic (40), who spent the night in a Belgrade sports hall with dozens of other families.

“The house was new, built two years ago for €100,000. What now?” – (Reuters)