The Danube river rose to its highest levels in decades on Wednesday, driving people from their homes in northern Serbia and Romania and swamping Bulgaria’s main river ports, officials said.
In Serbia, the Danube and Sava rivers were still rising near the capital Belgrade, while the towns of Titel, Zabalj and Zrenjanin were threatened by the Tisa river, swollen from rain and melting snow from central Europe.
Crews resorted to bringing sandbags by boat in pouring rain to reinforce barriers on the Tisa as inundated wooded areas on the river’s bank blocked access. Authorities also erected new barriers and evacuated people from their homes.
“We are really entering a dramatic phase in the next few days,” Branislav Radovanovic of the Vojvodina water management board told live television.
In Belgrade, the Sava and Danube were 20 centimeters from record highs hit in 1981, but authorities said berms built from earth and sandbags should hold back the water when it is expected to peak on Thursday and Friday.
In Romania, over 70 houses were damaged and over 50 people evacuated from the Danube delta village of Smardan after the river burst its banks. Some 12,000 acres of farmland were also flooded along the river further inland.
Across the Danube in Bulgaria, soldiers and disaster workers strengthened dykes in many towns as water swamped the country’s three major river ports.
In the port of Lom, workers rushed to construct a second dyke as water levels reached 35-year highs, a disaster management ministry spokeswoman said.
Upriver in Vidin, rising underground water flooded basements in scores of houses and waters neared the critical overflow level.
“If it reaches that level, evacuations will begin, but experts say the water will probably stop rising before then,” said Hristian Kirilov, an official at the regional civil defense office in Vidin.
Officials said the flood threat would persist for 4-5 days more. The region is still recovering from record floods last summer that killed scores of people and caused hundreds of millions of euros in damage.