Romanians Who Fled Danube Flooding Face Food Shortages

Thousands of Romanians who fled areas flooded by the Danube River are now facing crowded conditions in tent communities and dwindling food supplies, residents and volunteers said.

With waters still rising after about two weeks of flooding, hundreds have taken refuge in tents on a hill overlooking the village of Chiselet, in south-central Romania. Some moved into makeshift shelters made from plastic sheets, while others crammed into army tents. Food is running low, they say, and there are no toilets, forcing them to use a nearby field.

Volunteers and authorities brought bread, water and canned foods — provided by the government — and promised to set up portable toilets Thursday.

"We are distributing food, including canned food," volunteer Constantin Stoica said, speaking by telephone from one camp housing 100 people evacuated from Chiselet.

It is a situation seen along the length of Romania's southern border, where the Danube — Europe's second-largest river — has reached record levels in the past weeks due to melting snow and heavy rains.

About 148 communities have been affected by flooding, and more than 15,000 people have been forced to evacuate, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

The Interior Ministry said Wednesday that 3,800 members of the police force, army, emergency services and other departments were working on flood relief, using helicopters and boats to move residents and tractors and water pumps to clear inundated areas.

No estimates have been made yet about how much the recent flooding has cost, but last year flooding cost the impoverished nation 1.5 billion (US$1.86 billion), the government said.

Slovenia, Sweden, Denmark and Austria have sent flood aid, including water pumps, sand bags, electric generators, disinfectant, and motor boats. The United States said last week it would donate US$250,000 (euro200,000) to help flood victims, according to the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.

Near Chiselet, a riverside village of 3,400 people, dead rats and moles were seen floating among floodwater debris. The army evacuated a local shepherd and his 250 sheep Wednesday. Other animals had already been pulled to safety, residents said.

In nearby Spantov, hundreds more villagers were crowded into tents, saying their food stores also were running low and they were without toilets. They were among some 1,800 people evacuated three days ago, but others were staying with relatives or in schools.

Authorities said they were taking measures to prevent the spread of disease. Disinfectant has been sprayed over some areas, according to television reports.

"We haven't had reports of any illnesses. ... Of course there are risks, but authorities have been mobilized," community police spokesman Bogdan Nicolae said, without giving details.

Villagers in Rast, western Romania, told Realitatea TV they detected a foul smell coming from a cemetery flooded a week ago, and animal corpses floating in floodwaters.

In the eastern port of Galati, the river was at a new record level of 6.61 meters (21.8 feet) — 5 centimeters (1.8 inches) higher than the 1897 record.

Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu blamed the flooding on Romania's system of dikes — built under communism in the 1960s and 1970s to reclaim land for agriculture. Many have cracked or crumbled, however, under the weight of excess water.

Near the western village of Bechet, a dike broke overnight, sending water surging into village homes.

In the eastern port of Tulcea, a dike cracked late Tuesday and caused flooding some areas, forcing residents to stay with family and friends. There was no power, and food was scarce in some areas, Realitatea TV reported.

There have been no deaths from the recent flooding. Last year heavy flooding throughout Romania killed at least 70 people.

Areas in Ukraine and Bulgaria, and earlier in Serbia, Hungary and Austria, also have seen massive flooding.