The Danube reached record high levels in Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria on Thursday, flooding fertile farmland as authorities in southeastern Europe considered ordering evacuations.
More than 3,000 police, military and civilian workers monitored dams in Romania, with dozens of communities ready to evacuate after weeks of spring runoff combined with heavy rain.
“We are going through an unprecedented situation,” said Madalin Mihailovici, director of the Agency for Romanian Waters. “Romania has never had such water levels.”
Rivers were expected to rise higher in the coming days, and hundreds had already fled the western Romanian village of Gataia, which flooded after the Barzava River burst its banks, officials said.
In Bulgaria, authorities declared a crisis in all 22 communities along the country’s 280-mile stretch of the Danube, which reached a record high level of 30.8 feet in the northwestern city of Vidin, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency and to prepare the city of 50,000 for a possible evacuation.
Women, children leave
Dozens of women and children had already left for safer ground, Bulgarian national radio reported, and Mayor Ivan Tsenov ordered the evacuation of a hospital and an orphanage. Schools and administrative agencies were closed.
Bulgaria has asked Romania and Serbia to restrict the release of water at the giant Iron Gates dam on the Danube, as the river threatened to burst the dikes at Vidin.
“If the Iron Gates do not restrict the water flow, not a single Bulgarian port will be able to resist” massive flooding, warned the government agency for research and maintenance of the Danube.
In the Bulgarian town of Kozlodui, the Danube reached 28 feet and submerged the port. Workers of the nearby nuclear power plant were regularly inspecting the dikes, but the plant’s safety was not threatened, the civil defense agency said.
Sandbags in Serbia
In Serbia, thousands of army troops were dispatched to help reinforce the Danube’s embankments with sandbags. The river overflowed its banks at several places, flooding parts of the capital, Belgrade, and large areas in the north of the country, where dozens of families had fled.
The Serbian government announced emergency measures in the flood-hit zones, such as the creation of a state body — including the defense and interior ministers — to coordinate all flood-prevention and rescue efforts.
More heavy rain in Belgrade added several inches to the river’s water level, which city officials said reached an all-time high of nearly 26 feet. Several low-lying streets were submerged.
The waters broke through the defenses at various points in Belgrade, disrupting traffic and submerging some homes near the Danube and Sava river banks. Belgrade officials urged residents to prepare for evacuation if the levels continue to rise.
Late Thursday, the Danube had overflowed in parts of eastern Serbia, flooding nearby villages and threatening the town of Veliko Gradiste.
Danube bursts its banks
Hundreds of acres of fertile farmland in northern Serbia were inundated after the Danube, Sava and Tisa rivers burst their banks.
In the hard-hit Lower Austria province, widespread leaks of heating oil from tanks in basements filled with water was complicating cleanup efforts, authorities said.
In the town of Duernkrut, where more than 300 houses were badly damaged in floods that struck parts of Austria in the past two weeks, workers were using special equipment to suck oil slicks off the surface of standing water before pumping areas dry, slowing cleanup work, officials said.
The Danube is the second largest river in Europe after the Volga, flowing through 10 countries along some 1,800 miles from Germany to the Black Sea.