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Mass evacuations possible as Danube rises

/ Source: Reuters

The Danube hit record high levels in the Balkans on Thursday, sending soldiers and disaster workers scrambling to evacuate people and stem flooding along its banks, officials said.

Bulgaria’s government declared a state of emergency along the Danube’s southern bank, while in Serbia’s capital, the mayor called for the evacuation of a suburb near the Sava river.

“No evacuations have started yet, but we have told people if it is impossible to leave, they should go to the top floors or roofs of their buildings,” Krasimir Kostov, a civil defense official in Silistra, northern Bulgaria.

In Lom, a town of 6,000 some 140 miles north of Sofia, workers filled sandbags to shore up dikes as the river swamped a hotel and city administration buildings.

A Reuters photographer at the scene said people were carrying furniture and other belongings from the buildings as the waters, fed by melting snow in central Europe and heavy rains in the Balkans, continued rising.

Upriver in the port of Vidin, 140 soldiers arrived to help shore up berms as the Danube rose to 370 inches, near or higher than the not officially recorded all-time high set in 1942, when waters inundated the then unprotected city center.

“People are out in the park looking at the river, because we have never seen such high levels before,” said Mariana Peneva, chief accountant at the Vidin civil defence office.

“We are prepared to evacuate.”

Officials said they would move 70,000 people from the area if it appeared the river would overcome dikes built to withstand water three feet higher than current levels.

Serbian crews struggled in heavy rain to shore up defenses on the banks of the Tisa and people in Mosovin, a village of 3,500, raced to build a new dyke, news agency Beta reported.

In the capital, Belgrade Mayor Nenad Bodanovic decided to evacuate Partizan, a suburb of around 1,000 people on the Sava river. Several of the city’s main roads were also flooded but not closed to traffic.

Romania’s Interior Ministry said more than 120 people had fled their homes near where the Danube creates its southern border with Bulgaria and swollen rivers also overcame a dam on the Borcea tributary -- the second to overflow in two days.

“We are on alert and ready to take immediate action. If the Danube rises by 30 more centimeters, we will be forced to evacuate 1,500 people from nine villages,” said Ioan Boieru, government representative in Tulcea.

Away from the Danube in southern Bulgaria, the Struma river also threatened to break its banks due to heavy rains, threatening a repeat of floods last month that caused major damage to farmland in neighboring Greece.

The Danube is expected to rise for around another week as the flood wave travels down from central Europe. The region is still recovering from floods last summer that killed scores of people and caused massive damage to farmland and infrastructure.