SPANTOV, Romania – The surging waters of the Danube lapped at doorsteps Thursday as hundreds of troops and volunteers built sandbag embankments and residents fled their village for a tent camp in the hills.
Thousands anxiously watched the swelling Danube from hilltop tents throughout the nation's hardest-hit area, south-central Romania's flood-swamped Calarasi country.
"Water is in our yard. What can we do? We have nowhere to go," said Getuta Paciarca, 37, from the village of Manastire.
Almost 16,000 people have been forced to evacuate from about 148 communities in Romania, the Interior Ministry said. Areas in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Austria also have seen massive flooding.
In Spantov, 62 miles southeast of Bucharest, residents fled surging water for a tent community of about 300 people, where sheep mingled with braying donkeys, children cried and adults rested in the sun.
President Traian Basescu visited evacuees in Calarasi, where over 3,000 displaced people are living in army tents.
"We thank God because we were able to flee," said Ioana Vasile, 57. "We could have died in the waters."
In Manastire, troops frantically piled sandbags on the main road and continued to evacuate hundreds of residents.
"I've never seen anything like this in my life," said Alexandru Tiganila, a 47-year-old welder. "If it floods, hundreds of houses will be under water here."
In the community of Chiselet, some homes lay in ruins after the Danube washed over them, while dozens of other homes were abandoned after being inundated. Some residents moved into makeshift shelters made from plastic sheets, while others crammed into army tents.
Maria Forlica, 71, burst into tears as she arrived from a nearby town with food at her sister's home, now a mass of rubble.
"Oh my boy, what has become of the house?" she wept as her great-nephew played among the ruins.
The situation is similar along the length of Romania's southern border, where the Danube — Europe's second-largest river — has reached record levels in past weeks due to melting snow and heavy rain.
The ministry said 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.
Authorities said they were taking measures to prevent the spread of disease. Disinfectant has been sprayed in some areas, according to TV reports. Medical teams were dispatched to vaccinate flood victims against typhoid fever and other waterborne diseases.
In the eastern port of Galati, the river was at a new record level of 21.8 feet — 1.8 inches higher than the 1897 record.
Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu has blamed the flooding on Romania's system of dikes built under communism in the 1960s and 1970s to reclaim land for agriculture. The Danube has been flowing at double its normal volume for more than a week.
There have been no confirmed reports of deaths from the recent flooding and no official estimates on damage. Last year, flash floods on other rivers killed 74 people and caused more than $1.8 billion in damage.