April 12, 2006

Danube rises to record levels

BELGRADE (Reuters) - 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 5,000 hectares (12,360 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 of 930 cm.

"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.