April 26, 2006

Danube floods force thousands from homes

By Bogdan Cristel

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

Europe's second-longest river -- swollen by rain and the
spring run-off -- has swept across hundreds of thousands of
hectares in central and southeastern Europe this month forcing
people on the Danube's flood plains out of their homes.

More than 5,000 people in Romania have been evacuated in
the last 24 hours according to interior ministry reports.

"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.

Further downstream in the Danube delta, emergency teams
began filling up a number of small lakes to ease water pressure
and defend nearby villages. "Around 300 million cubic meters of
water started to flow to the lakes after we opened several
dams," Environment Minister Lucia Varga told Reuters.

Romania has reported 15,000 evacuations since the river
began spilling its banks earlier this month. Other countries
such as Serbia, Hungary and Bulgaria have reported much lower
numbers of evacuations. But all have thousands of hectares
(acres) of rural land under water.

The government decided on Wednesday to disburse an
immediate aid worth 150 lei ($53.70) to each evacuee. It also

emergency aid consisting of sparkling water, beds, sleeping
bags and soap worth an overall 35 million lei.


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.

The mayor of Bechetul din Vale said the army had evacuated
some 400 people from his town to nearby schools.

"Our efforts to reinforce the dikes have failed," Mayor
Constantin 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 defenses hold,
state news agency MTI reported.