Emergency workers race to protect town from flood surge in Serbia

Serbia ordered the evacuation Monday of this town and 11 others along the raging Sava River, but Bratislava Pavlovic won’t budge, even as water rising six feet in an hour lapped outside her third-floor apartment.

OBRENOVAC, Serbia — Serbia ordered the evacuation Monday of this town and 11 others along the raging Sava River, but Bratislava Pavlovic won’t budge, even as water rising six feet in an hour lapped outside her third-floor apartment.

“I grew up in this town,” the 58-year-old postal worker said. “I was born and raised here.”

The worst rainfall in more than a century has flooded large swathes of Bosnia and Serbia, threatening Serbia’s main power plant and unleashing landslides that have swept away homes and unearthed land mines left over from the region’s war, along with warning signs pinpointing their locations.

At least 35 people have died and tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

In Obrenovac, shop windows were shattered and children’s bicycles, bedding, chairs and car tires were scattered in the streets. Dogs abandoned by their owners roamed about in packs as security forces distributed drinking water and food to the few remaining residents.

“It came like a big wave,” Pavlovic said of the churning floodwaters that inundated the town of 15,000 some 20 miles south of the capital, Belgrade, when the Sava overflowed its banks.

“It happened in one hour, two meters of water. Nobody saw it coming,” said Pavlovic, whose two sons and their families were among those who fled.

Another surge of floodwaters on Monday prompted the evacuation order for a dozen communities, including Obrenovac, where soldiers, police and volunteers worked around the clock to protect the coal-fired Nikola Tesla power plant, which supplies electricity for half of Serbia and most of Belgrade.

Emergency crews have so far defended the plant by building high walls of sandbags, but some of the barriers were destroyed when a powerful 9-foot-high surge of floodwater burst through them Monday.

Hundreds of people were evacuated by helicopters and buses, joining some 7,800 residents already forced from their homes since Friday. Hundreds more were believed trapped in the higher floors of buildings, without power or phone lines.

The death toll is expected to rise as floodwaters recede after the worst rainfall since records began to be kept 120 years ago.

In Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija called the flood damage “immense” and even compared it to the carnage during the country’s 1992-95 war that killed at least 100,000 people and left millions homeless. He said the flooding had destroyed about 100,000 houses and 230 schools and hospitals and left a million people without drinking water.

“The only difference from the war is that less people have died,” he said. “The country is devastated. … This is something that no war in the history of this country” ever accomplished.

In Orasje, a Bosnian border town, frantic efforts were being made to prevent the Sava from rushing through broken barriers. Ideas included dropping old trucks from helicopters or covering gaps with wire frames and then reinforcing with sandbags.

The emergency commander in the town, Fahrudin Solak, said the decaying corpses of drowned farm animals littered the area. “We are sending out mobile incinerators and we have asked for international assistance, to send us more incinerators,” he said.

The floods have triggered more than 2,000 landslides in Bosnia. Aside from sweeping away homes and barns, the walls of mud and earth have carried some of the estimated 100,000 land mines left over from the region’s war, along with their warning signs, to entirely new, often unknown, locations.

“Landslides and land mines devastated very fertile land,” Lagumdzija said.

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