Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Bosnia: More than 4 million affected by floods

At least 40 have died in flooding that devastated the Balkans, Bosnian official compares destruction to the 1992–95 war

Bosnia said on Monday that more than a quarter of its 4 million people had been affected by the worst floods to hit the Balkans in living memory, comparing the "terrifying" destruction to that of the country's 1992-95 war.

The extent of the devastation became apparent in Serbia too, as waters receded in some of the worst-hit areas to reveal homes toppled or submerged in mud, trees felled and villages strewn with the rotting corpses of livestock.

Communities in both nations battled to protect towns and power plants on Monday from rising flood waters and landslides that have devastated swathes of both countries and killed dozens of people.

The current death toll of at least 39 is expected to rise as floodwaters started to recede in some locations, laying bare the full scale of the damage after three months' worth of rain fell on the region in three days, producing the worst floods since rainfall measurements began 120 years ago.

"The consequences ... are terrifying," Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija told a news conference. "The physical destruction is not less than the destruction caused by the war."

Lagumdzija said more than 100,000 houses and other buildings in Bosnia were no longer fit to use and that over a million people had been cut off from clean water supplies.

"During the war, many people lost everything," he said. "Today, again they have nothing."

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic appealed for outside aid.

"We expect huge support, because not many countries have experienced such a catastrophe," he said.

Power plant 'In hands of God'

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 7,800 people have been evacuated from their homes, which were mostly completely submerged in water. Some 2,000 people are still believed trapped in higher floors of buildings, without power or phone lines.

Predrag Maric, a Serbian emergency official, said Monday 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.

Djina Trisovic, a union spokeswoman at Serbia's EPS power utility, said some workers at the plant had worked three days with barely a break because relief teams could not reach the plant.

"The plant should be safe now," she told Reuters. "We've done all we could. Now it's in the hands of God."

Floodwaters also triggered more than 3,000 landslides across the Balkans on Sunday, laying waste to entire towns and villages and disturbing land mines left over from the region's 1990s war, along with warning signs that marked the unexploded weapons.

Authorities organized a frenzied helicopter airlift to move terrified families to safety before the water swallowed up their homes. Many were plucked from rooftops.

“These are the kind of waters not seen in 1,000 years, let alone 100,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told a televised cabinet session Sunday.

The rain caused an estimated 2,100 landslides that covered roads, homes and whole villages throughout hilly Bosnia. Another 1,000 landslides were reported in neighboring Serbia.

The Sava burst its banks after days of torrential flooding in the ex-Yugoslav republics, flooding towns and cutting power to tens of thousands of homes. Fena news, a Bosnian government agency, reported that a 200-foot long section of a Sava River levee had been breached Sunday morning.

The same river broke through embankments Saturday in the eastern Croatian cities of Racinovci and Rajevo Selo.

The cities of Orasje and Brcko in northeast Bosnia, where the Sava River forms the natural border with Croatia, were in danger of being overwhelmed. Officials in Brcko ordered six villages to be evacuated.

Rescuers urged people to go to the balconies or rooftops of their houses with bright fabric to make themselves visible.

International aid efforts were stepped up on Sunday, with Russian cargo planes and rescue teams from around Europe joining volunteer efforts. Two Russian Ilyushin-26 cargo planes landed in Serbia carrying food, generators and rescue boats. Rescue teams, humanitarian aid, water pumps and generators have arrived from Russia and several European Union member states, including Britain, Germany and Austria. Support has also come from Serbia and Bosnia’s fellow ex-Yugoslav republics.

In Bosnia, nine bodies were recovered Saturday from the northeastern town of Doboj after what the regional police chief described as a “tsunami” of water 10-13 feet high.

Prime Minister Vucic said a fire and flooding of surface mines at the 1,300 megawatt Kolubara coal-fired power plant southwest of Belgrade had caused damage of “at least 100 million euros [$137 million].”

The EU has said that flood hazards may increase in coming years as a result of climate change, and a recent report found that the frequency of severe flooding across Europe is set to double by 2050 — and could result in a five-fold increase in annual economic losses from the floods.

The EU spent about $6.7 billion on average for flood-related costs between 2000-2012. But based on the report’s rainfall projections, that number will likely increase to $32.1 billion by 2050.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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