Danube Keeps Rising; Romanians Evacuate

Thousands of people were evacuated from areas threatened by the surging Danube on Tuesday as Europe's second-longest river continued to rise. By midday, 3,500 residents had been evacuated from communities in western Romania. About 10,000 more were expected to be forced from their homes.

President Traian Basescu visited the area Monday and urged residents to leave after nearby dikes broke. The army sent trucks to help residents transport their possessions.

Nicolae Giugea, a government official in the area, told Romania's Mediafax news agency that an estimate of damage caused by the flooding could be made only after the water had subsided.

Evacuated residents were staying with friends and relatives, as well as in tents and schools.

In the eastern port of Galati, the river rose to 21.7 feet, 1.7 inches higher than the 1897 record in that section of the river.

Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu told a news conference the flooding had been caused by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's overbuilding of dikes along the Danube to reclaim land for agricultural use during the 1960s and '70s. The overbuilding has left no place for recent heavy rain and melting snow to go, and after weeks of pressure, the dikes have begun to weaken.

"Things which are against nature, and here I am referring to dikes along the Danube, are exactly the reason we are having flooding because the Danube cannot deal with the excessive flow," Tariceanu said, adding that the government planned to examine possible changes to the dikes.

About 450 residents were forced to leave their homes in the eastern Romanian village of Oltina, where about 50 houses were flooded after cracks appeared in a dike.

A total of 9,500 people have been evacuated from some 148 communities in the past 10 days, according to Romania's Interior Ministry.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated in Romania, Bulgaria, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Hungary since heavy flooding along the Danube began this month.

Heavy flooding throughout Romania killed 70 people last year.