April 26, 2006

Danube floods force thousands from Romanian homes

By Bogdan Cristel

SPANTOV, Romania (Reuters) - Thousands of Romanians fled
low-lying areas of the Danube basin over the last 24 hours as
the river overwhelmed flood defenses to swamp roads and
farmland, government officials said on Wednesday.

Europe's second-longest river -- swollen by rain and the
spring run-off -- has swept over vast tracts of land in central
and southeastern Europe this month.

The flooding has forced thousands of people living on the
Danube's flood plains out of their homes, including more than
5,000 people from Romania in the last day.

"Around 2,500 people have been displaced overnight from the
villages of Sarata, Sapata, Bechet and Macesu in the Dolj
county as a precautionary move," the region's prefect Nicolae
Giugea told Reuters on Wednesday.

In the villages of Spantov and Chiselet, further downstream
in the county of Calarasi, around 3,000 people fled their homes
over the past day and have been accommodated in military tents
pitched on higher ground.

"It's incredibly painful to see your wealth amassed by your
father in 60 years disappearing within seconds," said Marian
Ilie from Spantov, who spent a night in a makeshift tent along
with his wife and children.

Rescue workers worked around the clock to reinforce mud
dikes with sandbags and reeds but have failed to stop the
waters from spreading into some areas.

Mayor Constantin Oclei said the army had evacuated some 400
people from the town of Bechetul din Vale to nearby schools.

"Our efforts to reinforce the dikes have failed," Oclei
said. "We're now trying to convince five elderly people to
leave their houses."

Hydrologists said water flow receded to around 14,300 cubic
meters per second near the Serbian-Romanian border on Wednesday
but many dikes remained at risk of cracking after holding back
the Danube for weeks.

In Bulgaria, waters started to fall by between five and 11
centimeters in the past 24 hours and authorities have started
to disinfect previously flooded areas.

Evacuated people have not yet returned because underground
waters were still high and houses could not yet be drained.

"If the river continues to go down at this speed, it will
withdraw completely in five to six days," said Georgi Linkov,
head of the civil defense in Pleven.

The Balkans are still reeling from devastating floods which
killed scores of people and left thousands homeless last
summer. The Danube originates in Germany and flows through or
forms borders with 10 countries before emptying into the Black

In Hungary, estimates of damage say insurance claims could
amount to 1 billion forints ($4.72 million), if defences hold,
state news agency MTI reported.