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The worst flooding in the Balkan region for over a century has reportedly resulted in at least 37 known fatalities and over tens of thousands of people are displaced from their homes, and, unfortunately, the worst is not yet over. Consequences from the catastrophic floods have reached wartime concern: land mines have surfaced as a result of landslides, a million people are without water, and a threat of one of the biggest power plants in the region facing a shutdown looms in the near future. “The only difference from the war is that less people have died,” Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said. “The country is devastated … this is something that no war in the history of this country” ever accomplished.
Starting on Thursday, three-months worth of rain fell on the Balkan regions of Bosnia, Serbia, and to some extent Croatia, within only three days, flooding the Sava River. Across the three countries, tens of thousands of evacuations were necessary due to the intensity of the downpour and the rising flood waters. Monday, a sand bag wall was knocked down by a nine-foot-high surge of flood water, resulting in hundreds of people evacuated by bus or helicopter. Over 100,000 homes, 230 schools, in addition businesses, railways, roads, and bridges, have been washed away by the floods. There are still many residents believed to be stranded on the roofs of houses and tall buildings.
Once the Sava River exceeded its riverbanks, the floodwaters rushed in like a wave, one resident reported. There is an account of floodwaters rising six feet within an hour. Lawn furniture, car tires, bikes and many pets and farm animals have been swept away in the downstream. Fahrudin Solak, an emergency commander respondent, says they have sent out mobile incinerators to help with the decaying corpses of animals that have littered the area, and they are asking for international assistance for more incinerators.
Obrenovac, Serbia is home to the Nikola Tesla power plant, the largest in the country, which provides power to the capital Belgrade and nearly half of Serbia. As of Monday, thousands of police, soldiers, and volunteers are doing their best to secure the plant from the flooding by using walls of sandbags, but the situation is still considered “critical,” according to the Associated Press. Serbian police chief Nebojsa Stefanovic ordered all civilians to evacuate Obrenovac, and 11 other villages along the Sava River, which is expected to be overrun with floodwaters near the power plant sometime Wednesday.
In other areas effected by the Balkan floods, nearly 3,100 landslides have occurred over the past four days. Tremendous downpours have destabilized and shifted large land masses. The combination of the mudslides and the flooding has surfaced thousands of land mines that plotted the land during the civil war of the early 90’s. To make matters worse, warning signs that notified people where potential land mines may be located were also swept away. Fears of increasing numbers of fatal and disastrous encounters with the unearthed land mines are a growing concern.
Ahdin Orahovac, deputy director of the Bosnia Mine Action Center in Sarajevo, says the current situation resembles days right after the war, “with the same consequences — no infrastructure, no electricity, no water, and more minefields.” After the war, Orahavoc says there were nearly two million untapped mines. Within the last two decades, Orahovac and his team have excavated and detonated thousands of them, which leaves, Orahovac predicts, 120,000 unexploded mines throughout the region. Despite the flooding, Bosnia has already fell victim to eight mine accidents within the past year.
“The main problem in Bosnia is how to find the mines,” Orahavoc says, a problem that the new flooding has made worse. “Now it is more complicated because all that we cleared has been disturbed. Now, we have to create new procedure on how to find mines, especially in the landslide area. And we have to act immediately.” Since land mines are activated by touch, Orahovac spent last week bringing awareness to flood victims and rescue crews not to touch anything suspicious. “Please don’t touch it.”
Weather.com meteorologist Jon Erdman predicts that the worst of the consequences of the Balkan floodings are not yet over. Although the weather has improved, floods will continue to build as they move downstream over the next few days, bringing more detritus with it, especially near Belgrade. The effects of the flooding and heavy rain will persist for days. The overflow of the Sava River will leak into and overflow its tributaries, producing concurrent flooding in subsequent regions, says Erdman. The death toll of the Balkan floods is expected to worsen once flood waters recede.
By Stacy Feder
The Weather Channel
The Washington Post