April 25, 2006

Hundreds of Romanians face evacuation as dikes break

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Hundreds of Romanians faced
evacuation on Tuesday as rescue teams struggled to reinforce
dikes holding back the swollen Danube river, officials said.

Rain and melting snow have swollen waterways and inundated
vast tracts of land in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary
this month, making thousands of people homeless.

In Romania, the worst-hit country where tens of thousands
of hectares are submerged, some 2,840 people have moved to high
ground since Sunday after earth-made dikes near poor southern
villages collapsed, putting the total of evacuees at 8,410.

In the village of Bechet, some 800 people have fled their
houses and rescuers were gearing up to evacuate hundreds more
after a nearby dike burst.

"The situation is very bad. We need to evacuate 1,200
people from Bechet and its surroundings by this evening,"
Bechet mayor Constantin Oclei told Reuters.

Further downstream in villages of Oltina and Spantov,
authorities said evacuations had stopped as the Danube receded
from century highs, but soldiers kept reinforcing flood
defences in case water levels rise again.

"There is still a risk that more dikes will fall as
pressure remains very high with water two metres (6 ft) above
flooding levels at some places," said Elena Anghel, hydrologist
at Romania's National Hydrology Institute.

The floods forced hundreds of Romanians to spend Orthodox
Easter Sunday -- a closely observed holiday in the Balkans --
in a bleak refugee camp away from their flooded village with
little hope of returning home.

The Danube originates in Germany and flows through or forms
borders with 10 countries before emptying into the Black Sea.