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Hundreds face risk of new flooding in Balkans

Hundreds of Romanians and Bulgarians faced the danger of fresh flooding on Thursday as the swollen Danube threatened to breach battered defenses.
Danube River flooding has forced Romanians like these near Rast on Wednesday to get around in trucks able to navigate through the water.Vadim Ghirda / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Hundreds of Romanians and Bulgarians faced the danger of new flooding on Thursday as the swollen Danube River threatened to breach battered defences.

Nearly 4,000 residents from Romania’s southwestern village of Rast spent the night in schools, hospitals, tents or with relatives in higher-lying areas with hundreds of houses submerged by flood waters.

In the Bulgarian port of Vidin, home to 50,000, rescue workers scrambled to reinforce dikes weakened after weeks high water in the Danube.

Residents painted eggs and baked traditional bread to send to a flooded Romanian village across the Danube for Sunday’s Orthodox Easter celebrations.

“Life is a curse. Floods are a curse and God is angry now on the eve of Easter,” said Gherghita Garleanu, 60, who spent two nights in a makeshift tent outside Rast.

“I have nowhere to go back to after the water recedes,” she said.

Romanian authorities said water levels in the Danube, which hit its highest level in more than a century in recent days, have started to recede in several areas, while torrential rains subsided and some evacuated villagers returned to their homes.

Danube water flow fell to 15,200 cubic metres per second on Thursday near the Romanian-Serbian border, from a 111-year record of 15,800 on Saturday, the Environment Ministry said.

On alert
More than 5,000 Romanians still cannot go back and officials warned several dam walls could give in, threatening to flood more villages along the Danube, a key shipping route between Western Europe and the Black Sea region.

“Some 200 houses from a low-lying area in Bistret could be flooded if water breaks the dikes, but with the help of God this won’t happen,” Constantin Raicea, mayor of the Romanian village of Bistret, told Reuters.

Raicea said police were expected to use a military helicopter to throw bundled reeds on weakened dikes.

Hundreds of Romanians left their homes overnight from the southwestern village of Bechetul de Vale as workers raced to stop flooding.

“We couldn’t do anything to strengthen the dams last night, because of the wind and heavy rains. ... Let’s hope we can do something today,” said Nicolae Giugea, an official from Dolj county where some of the worst-hit villagers are located.

Across Romania, emergency services vaccinated evacuated villagers against tetanus and hepatitis.

The interior ministry prepared packages with eggs, lamb and traditional cake for people living in some 50 tents on high ground near Rast, who had little hope of going home for Easter.

Across the flood-ravaged Balkans, nearly 200,000 hectares of fertile farmland and miles of roads across Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria were underwater.

High water flow on the Danube river forced Serbia’s power plant Djerdap 2, on the border with Romania, to suspend output for the first time since its launch 20 years ago.