Melting Ice On Danube Wrecks Hundreds Of Boats, Sinks Landmark Nightclub
February 21, 2012

Melting Ice On Danube Wrecks Hundreds Of Boats, Sinks Landmark Nightclub

Warming temperatures sent icebergs up to three feet thick crashing into hundreds of boats on the River Danube near Belgrade, whisking away several barges and sinking one of Belgrade's trademark floating restaurants, Alexander, according to witness accounts on Monday.

The ice floes, which had closed large parts of the 1,800-mile-long waterway as the region fell under a record-setting two-week cold spell, began shifting Sunday afternoon due to rising temperatures.

There were no reports of injuries, although the cold snap that preceded it has killed hundreds throughout Europe and trapped thousands more in remote, mountain villages behind vast mounds of snow.

The showy floating restaurants and nightclubs lining the River Danube are one of Belgrade´s main tourists attractions.  The river flows through 10 countries and is critical for transport, power, irrigation, industry and fishing.  This year´s cold spell had caused the river to become almost entirely frozen from Austria to its mouth on the Black Sea.

Officials across the region are working to determine whether the melting snow and ice would trigger heavy flooding, and are hoping that lowered water levels from last year´s drought will help Serbia avert the floods that hit Bulgaria and Greece.  But the situation remains tenuous.

"At this moment we don't know what will happen," said Nikola Marjanovic, a Serbian water supply system official, during an interview with The Associated Press.

Debris from Sunday´s incident was scattered among the breaking ice for thousands of feet along the river.

"Hundreds of small boats were damaged or sunk, while almost 90 percent of rafts were moved up to 20 yards downstream," said Zoran Matic of the Belgrade water company in an interview with the AFP news agency.

Three icebreakers had been brought in to lessen pressure on rafts "to save what could be saved," he added.

"The damage is enormous. This is a disaster," said one desperate boat owner in an interview with a local radio station.

More than 20 people have died from the cold in Serbia in recent weeks, and damages are estimated to be around $660 million.