MANASTIRE, Romania – Residents began returning to impoverished, flood-swept villages in southern Romania on Thursday to clear up debris and take stock of the damage left behind by the swollen Danube River in recent days.
When the river's waters crashed over sandbagged dikes and roared for several kilometers over flat farmland earlier this week it obliterated half the homes in the village of Manastire, many of which were made of little more than mud-and-straw bricks.
The waters -- thick with mud, straw and garbage -- submerged houses, vehicles, a gas station and a medical facility in the village, one of the central settlements along Romania's southern border with Bulgaria.
Dozens of residents returned Thursday, wading through swamped streets. Frogs leapt in the garbage-filled water that has left Manastire resembling a lake.
More than 300 residents of the area have had to be resettled in a camp of military tents on a nearby hill.
They are among the 13,000 Romanians evacuated from their homes after the Danube River, fed by melting snow and rainfall in central Europe, caused widespread flooding in recent weeks in communities near its banks. Parts of neighboring Serbia, Bulgaria and Ukraine were also affected.
"My house is ruined. What can we do?" said Marian Albu, 38, as he scooped up garbage floating in about a meter (three feet) of water in his house.
Three diesel-fueled pumps were at work toward the edge of the village, but water levels remained high downtown, where the roofs of two buses were barely visible.
Many houses were destroyed. Homes made of mud and straw simply dissolved in the rush of water.
"I prefer to die rather than be in this situation," said Anica Ostroveanu, 83, who has been living in a tent and unable to reach her house because the Danube's waters have engulfed her entire street.
"I don't know how badly my house is flooded. ... I've lived in it for 50 years," she said.
Authorities have been delivering food and bottled water three times a day for the evacuees in Manastire's tent city. But their future has remained uncertain.
The government has ordered 500 mobile homes for flood victims and has pledged to build new, permanent homes.
Evacuees -- most of whom were living in dire poverty even before the floods -- depend on the government's aid to rebuild.
"We hope the government will help us with housing, we need it," said Mioara Gheorghe, 28, a housewife and mother of three young boys whose husband works as a day laborer on farms.
Their house was completely destroyed by water and the family lives in a tent.
"It's like being in prison here. ... We don't know what to do, we're not even hungry anymore," she said, as donated meals of fried fish arrived from a nearby church.