April 28, 2006

Hundreds of Romanians go home as Danube recedes

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The flood risk from the swollen
Danube eased throughout Romania on Friday, allowing hundreds of
villagers to return home, but officials said the threat of more
floods persisted if dikes burst.

Large regions of southern Romania along the Danube remain
under water after weeks of flooding and some 14,000 villagers
are still displaced.

"People from several villages in the Dolj and Calarasi
county are returning to their houses as flooding risk
subsided," Interior Minister Vasile Blaga told Reuters by
telephone. "They had been evacuated as a precautionary move."

Europe's second-longest river, the Danube poured over dams
and burst defenses throughout central and southeastern Europe
this month as melting snow and heavy rains raised water levels
to century highs.

The levels have receded slightly in recent days but
officials said many waterlogged dikes could still give way
because of the prolonged pressure of high water levels.

Experts say water flow is expected to dwindle from around
14,000 cubic meters per second to around 13,800 in the next
couple of days and further down to 13,000 by the middle of next

"Danube flow is decreasing slowly," Ion Ghita from the
Environment Ministry said.


Governments throughout the region have begun assessing the
damage. Officials in Romania, a major European grains producer,
have said that losses in farming will be much smaller than
during last year's massive flooding of many Danube tributaries.

In Bulgaria, towns along the river rushed to file requests
for financial aid to cope with the aftermath of the flooding.

"We are talking about millions of levs (euros) here, the
worst hit areas along the Danube have already asked the
government for financial support," said Elena Yaneva,
spokeswoman for the Disaster Management Ministry.

The mayors of Vidin and Nikopol, worst hit by the swollen
waters, said they would need money to strengthen dikes, tackle
the growing number of mosquitoes that may spark epidemics, and
repair damaged buildings and roads.

They will try their luck on a TV game show to raise money
next week on the Bulgarian version of "Who Wants to be a
Millionaire?" and donate any winnings to flood relief efforts.
Contestants can actually win only 100,000 levs ($64,140).

"The organizers of the game invited us to participate ... I
hope we will win as much money as possible," said Vidin Mayor
Ivan Tsanov.

(Additional reporting by Kremena Miteva and Angel
Krasimirov in Sofia)