April 23, 2006

Rescuers plug dikes in Balkans

By Aurora Martiniuc

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Rescuers and volunteers plugged
cracked flood defences in southeastern Europe on Sunday, but
many hoped relief was in sight with the Danube and other rivers
expected to withdraw from century highs in coming days.

Buoyed by rain and melting snow, swollen waterways have
swamped vast tracts of land in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and
Hungary in recent days, driving thousands to higher ground.

In Romania, the worst-hit country, some 100 soldiers and
gendarmes reinforced dikes in southeastern village of Oltina,
close to Bulgarian borders, after the Danube tore a nearby dam
on Saturday, forcing the evacuation of 300 people.

Rescue teams had to break through a major dike in the
Danube delta to protect low-lying villages on Friday, but
authorities now say the coming days may bring a respite.

"The forecast is hopeful. The Danube will be receding next
week, but we will still have problems with the floods as the
fall will be very slow," said Elena Anghel, hydrologist at
Romania's National Hydrology Institute.

Thousands of people from Rast, a poor southern village,
spent a sixth night in schools and hospitals with hundreds
celebrating Orthodox Easter in front of makeshift shelters.

Some 60 km (37 miles) downstream in Bechet, volunteers and
army helicopters helped to fix a breach in a dam with sandbags,
but authorities said there was no imminent threat of flooding.

Bulgarian officials were also optimistic the swollen rivers
would retreat from record highs next week, though waterlogged
dikes near the town of Ryahovo threatened to collapse.

"The forecasts are pretty optimistic. The Danube will
probably stay stable for another day or two before it starts to
fall," a civil defense official said.

In Ryahovo, authorities have set up evacuation points for
760 people due to a heavy rain with its mayor complaining about
swarms of mosquitos and stinking sewers. Only 70 people have
been evacuated across Bulgaria so far.

Europe's second-longest river, the Danube originates in
Germany and flows through or forms borders with 10 countries
before emptying into the Black Sea.


In Hungary, where a second round of elections took place on
Sunday, the swollen Tisza river has been dropping slowly
overnight in the northeastern town of Tokaj, but was still
threatened to break through dikes further south.

Around 3,000 rescue workers hurried to repair cracks in
flood defences at the confluence of the Tisza and Koros rivers,
which have forced 1,600 people to flee.

Many of the 4,500 residents from the three nearby villages
refused to leave their homes despite an appeal by Prime
Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, who visited the villagers on

It is the second time floods have ravaged the region in a
year. Last summer, swollen rivers killed scores of people and
left thousands homeless.

Further south in Serbia, local media reported the flood
peak has passed, with water levels receding since last night.

Authorities still fear that some of the dams on the Tisza,
which have not been reconstructed for more than a century, will
not hold if water levels remain high.

(Additional reporting by Andras Gergely, Branimir Pipal and
Angel Krasimirov)