April 13, 2006

Rising Danube sparks floods, evacuation

By Nikolay Doychinov

LOM, Bulgaria (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

"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 230 km (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 942 cm (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 defense 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 a meter (3 ft) 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

(Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia, Beti Bilandzic,
Kremena Miteva and Tsvetelia Ilieva)