Europe
5:24 am
Mon May 19, 2014

Record Floodwaters Wash Across Balkans

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 7:46 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's get an update now on some deadly weather in Europe. Crowds of people have been stacking sandbags through the night around one of Serbia's main power plants. They are trying to protect it from the worst rainfall and flooding in Serbia and Bosnia since record keeping began a 120 years ago. The floodwaters have caused more than 3,000 mudslides and the region's death toll is now at least 37.

The BBC's Guy De Launey lives in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and joins us on the line. Guy, good morning.

GUY DE LAUNEY: Good morning.

GREENE: So, Guy, tell us. What is the biggest threat right now and what does the situation look like?

LAUNEY: Well, the situation looks better than it did a couple of days ago when the water really was rising and people were concerned about the floods surge coming down at the Sava River with floodwater from neighboring Bosnia and Croatia. But there's still a great deal of concern about conditions in these towns and cities, which are being inundated with water as the floodwaters recede. That's when a lot of the big problems will really begin.

That's when a lot of the big problems will really begin. We'll get a greater idea of the number of people who've died in these floods and we'll get a greater idea of how much damage has been done by the massive amounts of water which have flowed in as the rivers have this country have burst their banks.

GREENE: There's a lot to cover here. Let's begin with this power plant that might be really threatened.

LAUNEY: That's in the town of Obrenovac, which is on the outskirts of Belgrade. And it's a very important power plant. It serves about a third of Serbia. And the concern was that if the river rose to levels that were high enough to inundate that plant, then a great part of the country would have lost its electricity supplies, and that would've obviously been an enormous issue.

At the moment, Obrenovac is OK. Belgrade appears to be OK. There's a town of bit further south called Chabac which they are concerned about. And they're also not convinced that these river surges are over. The forecasters say we may not see the peak until Wednesday or Thursday. So nobody is getting too relax just yet.

GREENE: Which I assume is the case in a lot of communities; if these surges might be still coming that there could be more people in trouble, perhaps more people dying - it's been a rising death toll.

LAUNEY: Yes, indeed. And the concern is that as the floodwaters recede, we'll find out exactly how many people have died. A lot of people were reluctant to leave their homes. These are places they might have put a lot of money and time into and personal labor into. And they didn't really want to leave them even though the rescue crews and the government were all telling them to get out; life is the important thing, not property.

GREENE: Can you paint a picture of one of the communities that you've visited or seen or heard from?

LAUNEY: Well, I was in Obrenovac on Sunday. And this is a town on the outskirts of Belgrade, about 18 miles away. And it was astonishing. The whole place was really underwater. You have this very bizarre sight of an outdoor swimming pool with its loop the loop slide under water, the petrol stations underwater, the hotel underwater. And what you had were hundreds of rescue workers going in and out in these semi-amphibious vehicles, which could cope with the water. And they were bringing people out and taking supplies in to those who refuse to leave.

GREENE: And these rescue efforts, are Serbia and Bosnia facing all of this on their own? Or is there internationally coming in?

LAUNEY: No, international aid has arrived. The United Nations has been delivering supplies overnight into Serbia. We've seen neighboring countries offering their help, as well. Croatia and Slovenia have been helping out. In Bosnia, I saw a Macedonian flag on a rescue truck in Obrenovac on Sunday. Russia has also been flying in supplies; much to the delight of the people in Serbia who rather fancy that they would be better off having closer ties with Russia than the European Union. But the European Union as well has sent in helicopters and emergency supplies.

I know that over the coming hours, the president is going out with a relief convoy to another one of the towns that's affected. And the prime minister will be doing likewise.

GREENE: Leaders of Serbia, we're talking about there.

LAUNEY: Yes.

GREENE: All right, that's the BBC's Guy De Launey speaking to us from the Serbian capital, Belgrade, about some deadly flooding already killed several dozen people.

Guy, thank you very much.

LAUNEY: It's a pleasure.

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GREENE: This is NPR News.

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