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Thousands flee, 20 die in record Balkan floods



By JOVANA GEC and ALMIR ALIC
Associated Press

MAGLAJ, Bosnia (AP) -- Packed into buses, boats and helicopters, carrying nothing but a handful of belongings, tens of thousands fled their homes Saturday in Bosnia and Serbia to escape the worst flooding in a century.

Rapidly rising rivers surged into homes, sometimes reaching up to the second floors, sending people climbing to rooftops for rescue.

Hundreds were also evacuated in Croatia.

Authorities said 20 people have died but warned the death toll could rise. Tens of thousands of homes were left without electricity or drinking water.

Landslides triggered by the floods also raised the risk of injury or death from land mines left over from Bosnia's 1992-95 war. The landslides swept away many of the carefully placed warning signs around the minefields.

Three months' worth of rain has fallen on the region in three days this week, creating the worst floods since records began 120 years ago.

Observed from the air, almost a third of Bosnia, mostly its northeast corner, resembled a huge muddy lake, with houses, roads and rail lines submerged. Admir Malagic, a spokesman for Bosnia's Security Ministry, said about a million people - over a quarter of the country's population - live in the affected area.

"Bosnia is facing a horrible catastrophe," said Bakir Izetbegovic, the chairman of the Bosnian three-man presidency. "We are still not fully aware of actual dimensions of the catastrophe ... we will have to take care of hundreds, thousands of people ..."

Izetbegovic was touring Maglaj, hard hit by floods. As the waters mostly withdrew on Saturday, Maglaj was covered in mud and debris, with residents checking damage and bringing furniture out in the streets to dry.

"Everything is destroyed, but we are happy to be alive," said Maglaj resident Zijad Omerovic.

In the eastern Bosnian town of Bijeljina, some 10,000 people were being evacuated Saturday after the rain-swollen Sava River pushed through flood defenses, endangering four villages outside the town. The peak of the Sava flood wave was expected in Bijeljina later Saturday, before advancing to Serbia.

"We need everything, we are underwater," mayor Mico Micic exclaimed.

In eastern Croatia, the overflowing Sava spread over villages and farm land, sending hundreds fleeing.

The rain caused nearly 300 landslides in Bosnia, burying dozens of houses and cars and further complicating relief efforts.

"They come unannounced in just a few seconds," said Fahrudin Solak, a Civil Protection official.

Officials in Bosnia say 12 people died and more bodies could be found as water recedes from dozens of cities. In some places, people had to be rescued by helicopter from their roofs.

Many in Bosnia lost homes they had only just rebuilt after the war, which claimed 100,000 lives and devastated the impoverished country.

In Serbia, eight deaths were reported and emergency crews and soldiers were using boats and helicopters to rescue thousands trapped in the town of Obrenovac, near Belgrade. Authorities also ordered residents of another nearby small town, Baric, to leave immediately Saturday afternoon. Many hurriedly climbed into buses and military trucks to get away.

Officials said more than 15,000 people have been evacuated from flood-hit regions in Serbia, many finding shelter in schools and sports halls. Lines of mattresses covered the floors of Belgrade schools, with frightened survivors describing unstoppable torrents that surged in a matter of minutes.

"It's all gone, all that we worked for, our animals, everything," one sobbing woman told Studio B television.

The flooding in Obrenovac is threatening the Nikola Tesla power plant, Serbia's biggest. Plant capacity had already been cut after a nearby coal mine was flooded and authorities urged residents to save energy to avoid brown-outs.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told a press conference that new wave of flooding on the Sava River will hit Sunday evening.

"Our primary concern is to protect the power plant," said Vucic. "We are doing all we can."

Thousands of volunteers responded to government's appeal to build up flood defenses along the Sava. Bused in from all over the country, the volunteers worked around the clock, stacking up sandbag barricades with soldiers and emergency crews. The town of Sremska Mitrovica was a particular concern.

"You can feel the solidarity everywhere. People are doing everything they can. I am seeing children and older people shoveling sand and carrying sandbags and no one finds this labor hard," said volunteer Marinko Trivunovic.

"I'm proud of the fact that I'm from Belgrade and I've come here to help these people to save their homes. By saving this city, we're saving the whole country," said volunteer Nemanja Radovic.

International help poured into the two nations. A Russian team joined the rescue efforts in Serbia. Rescue teams from Luxembourg, Slovenia and Croatia were already in Bosnia, and others from the U.K., Austria and Macedonia were expected.

Residents in both countries mobilized through Facebook or other social media, collecting tons of food, blankets and clothing for the crisis-hit areas.

From the Italian Open in Rome, Serbia's best tennis player, Novak Djokovic, appealed for flood volunteers on his Twitter account.

"Support for everyone! Let's help the endangered! Join the aid action!" he tweeted.

Join the discussion

1000|Characters 1000  Characters
n3mpw May 17 2014 at 8:32 PM

and again a fireman or EMT thought of the animals.
Hats off!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
bigred8690 May 17 2014 at 10:06 PM

Let Saudi Arabia give aid to Bosnia and let Russia aid Serbia (but Putin spent all his money on the Olympics). It's not America's problem.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
3 replies
honeyrose3332 May 17 2014 at 9:32 PM

With all these mysteries, catastrophies, etc. going on, I think the message is being sent to us humans that really we're nothing but a speck on the big picture of things. With all things going on and the way we're messing everything up, our greed and hate, it's not over yet. There is surely plenty more coming our way.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
dzanfam May 17 2014 at 3:56 PM

My heart is breaking for them. To endure so much horror in the war, survive, rebuild and have it all taken away again. Just too much :(

Flag Reply +3 rate up
apollospeaks88 May 17 2014 at 8:43 PM

THERE IS ONLY ONE, TRUE, INFALLIBLE SCIENCE OF CATASTROPHIC GLOBAL WARMING

and it has nothing to do with left-wing, man made climate change hysteria, and the false, politically driven consensus orthodoxy.

It is important that you google "The Coming of Catastrophic Global Scorching/Apollospeaks" to learn what it is

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
onionson apollospeaks88 May 17 2014 at 10:05 PM

Oh no, not more of your sun is going to explode some day stuff and ignore anything man might be doing crap again. Do you automatically post the same word for word statement for every disaster to get web page hits?

To state there is only one infallible science is quite infallible and contrary to The Laws of Probability and Statistics.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
2 replies
onionson onionson May 17 2014 at 10:06 PM

quite fallible....like me!

Flag 0 rate up
apollospeaks88 onionson May 18 2014 at 4:00 AM

Can you provide me with a single stitch of evidence that what man is putting into the air is catastrophically heating the atmosphere and causing bad weather events (which have been declining in frequency over the last decade)? Until you or anyone can do that the only catastrophic earth destroying atmospheric heating we can be certain of is the sun turning into a scorching red giant whose greatly expanded heat and light radius will turn the earth's surface into a sea of molten lava. That will infallibly occur in the distant future obliterating all life on earth. Or would you like to dispute that?

Flag +1 rate up
stengernc May 17 2014 at 5:13 PM

God set into motion the rules of Nature, humanity gets in the way and does not seem to learn that over population will cause millions to perish. this is just the beginning of what climate change will bring.....you reap what you sow.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
5 replies
jeraso May 17 2014 at 7:54 PM

MMMMM,,,they looks pretty HAPPY in the covers Picture to me,...!!! Baaaaah,...!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Ken May 17 2014 at 6:11 PM

Everybody in Serbia and Bosnia needs our help. Please email as many vowels as you can spare.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Ken Ken May 17 2014 at 6:11 PM

In face, let's make it a vowel movement.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
onionson Ken May 17 2014 at 10:24 PM

You need a new bowel.....I mean vowel and it's the letter T.

Flag 0 rate up
Jeremiah May 17 2014 at 5:25 PM

"Residents in both countries mobilized through Facebook or other social media, collecting tons of food, blankets and clothing for the crisis-hit areas."

God bless our social medias.....(sarcasm font.)

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Bobo May 17 2014 at 5:06 PM

President Obama dont care for Serbia and Bosnia. $100.000.00 what has to be send it is not direct to Serbian Red Cross but around some bank in the Europe. Russia did sent a help right away. Slobodan

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
miriamisrael1 Bobo May 17 2014 at 7:08 PM

Really!?

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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