19 May 2014, 20:17

Russian rescuers evacuate 3,000 people in flood-hit Serbia

Russian rescuers evacuate 3,000 people in flood-hit Serbia

Russian rescuers have evacuated almost 3,000 people in Serbia, hit by the worst flooding for 120 years, Russia’s Deputy Emergencies Minister Vladimir Stepanov has said. Russian rescuers arrived in Serbia on May 16. "Two planes of the Emergency Situations Ministry carried humanitarian aid and delivered equipment and foodstuffs to settlements," he said on Monday.

Earlier in the day, Emergencies Minister Vladimir Puchkov said, "I ask to plan additional humanitarian aid. One more plane with food and medicines will be sent."

Two Ka-32 helicopters from Russia have arrived in Serbia for organizing deliveries of food products to remote residential sites, Stepanov said.

Russian rescuers will work in Serbia till the end of the week. Totally about 100 people work there, he said.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, leading relief operations, urged all those unwilling to leave their homes "not to resist evacuation".

"Do not prompt us into using force to save your lives," Vucic said on the air at Serbia’s RTS broadcasting service. "Most important now is to save lives and then we should think about property."

Floods affect over 1 million in Balkans, destruction 'horrifying'

Bosnia said on Monday that more than a quarter of its four 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.

The regional death toll reached at least 39, after the heaviest rainfall since records began 120 years ago caused rivers to burst their banks and triggered hundreds of landslides.

"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."

His remarks threw into sharp relief the extent of the challenge now facing the cash-strapped governments of both Bosnia and Serbia.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the cost in Serbia would run to hundreds of millions of euros, and that the death toll would certainly rise.

Balkans brace for more misery amid worst floods in over a century

The Balkans braced for swollen rivers to reach new peaks on Monday, piling up misery after the worst floods in a century killed 45 people and sent tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. Muddy waters from the Sava River have submerged houses, churches, mosques and roads in Bosnia and Serbia after record rainfall wreaked havoc across the central European region.

Some 50,000 people have been evacuated in Bosnia and Serbia, with an additional 15,000 in Croatia, AFP reports. With some towns completely cut off by the torrents, fear rose that the death toll could rise significantly once rescue teams were able to move in.

"What happened to us happens once in a thousand years," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Sunday.

Rescuers told of wrenching scenes as they finally reached cut-off villages, with dozens of people huddling at the highest houses with no water or food.

Besides the flooding, the worst rainfall since records began in the late 19th century, also caused landslides that brought more destruction, prompted landmine warnings and closed numerous border crossings.

The dikes built by thousands of volunteers along the Sava River and around the Nikola Tesla power plant managed to hold overnight, Serbian state-run RTS television reported.

The plant, which produces some 50 percent of Serbian electricity, was surrounded by water.

Humanitarian aid, technical equipment and teams from Russia, the European Union, the United States and neighboring Montenegro and Macedonia were pouring in, authorities said.

Russia sends Ka-32 helicopters to help relief efforts in flood-hit Serbia

Two Russian Ka-32 multipurpose helicopters are to arrive in Serbia on Monday to assist in flood relief efforts, the RIA Novosti news agency reports, quoting a source in the Emergency Situations Ministry. The helicopters took off from Ramenskoye airfield near Moscow and after refueling in Brest headed for Bratislava. Their final destination is Nis, Serbia. The flight will total more than 2,300 km, the source said.

Upon arrival, the Ka-32 helicopters will be searching for and rescuing survivors in flood-stricken areas and delivering relief supplies to hard-to-access places.

Vast parts of Serbia were flooded last week after heavy rains caused rivers to swell. It has stopped raining by now, but the overflowing rivers still pose a danger. There is a high risk of landslides.

A state of emergency was declared in pats of neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Doboi, Samac, Maglai, Bijeljina, Banja Luka and many other cities and towns are completely or partially inundated. Thousands of residents were evacuated to safer areas.

Serbia declared a national emergency. On Thursday, the Serb government requested humanitarian and technical aid from Russia and the European Commission.

On Friday, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry sent humanitarian aid to Serbia. As many as 72 Russian rescuers of the Tsentrospas and Leader emergency units, ten floating crafts and other rescue equipment from Russia were deployed near the town of Obrenovac not far from Belgrade.

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