The Serbian capital Belgrade is braced for a river water surge that threatens to inundate the country’s main power plant and cause major power cuts, as the Balkans continue to struggle with the consequences of the worst flooding in south-eastern Europe in more than a century.
At least 17 people died in Serbia in the five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain, laying waste to entire towns and villages and forcing tens of thousands of people out of their homes, authorities said.
At least another 17 died in Bosnia, but the death toll is expected to rise as flood waters recede in some locations, laying bare the full scale of the damage.
The coal-fired Nikola Tesla power plant supplies electricity for half of Serbia and most of Belgrade. It is located in Obrenovac, the worst flood-hit town near Belgrade where some 7,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, which were mostly completely submerged in water.
Some 2,000 people are still believed to be trapped in higher floors of buildings, without power or phone lines.
Predrag Maric, a Serbian emergency official, said today that the situation in Obrenovac is still critical. He said that so far thousands of soldiers, policemen and volunteers have managed to “defend” the power plant from the surging Sava River waters by building high walls of sandbags.
Three months’ worth of rain fell on the Balkan region in three days, producing the worst floods since rainfall measurements began 120 years ago.
Surging water coursed through towns and villages in Serbia and Bosnia and to a lesser extent in Croatia, flowing across streets and into homes, sweeping bridges off their moorings. Sodden hills crumbled into landslides, while hundreds of buses and cars were stranded on flooded roads.
Flood waters have triggered more than 3,000 landslides across the Balkans. In Bosnia, the water surge disturbed land mines left over from the region’s 1990s war, along with warning signs that marked the location of the unexploded weapons.