BELGRADE, Serbia – Belgrade braced for a river water surge Monday that threatened to inundate Serbia's main power plant and cause major power cuts in the crisis-stricken country as the Balkans struggle with the consequences of the worst flooding in southeastern Europe in more than a century.
At least 17 people died in Serbia in the five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain, laying waste to entire towns and villages in the Balkans and sending tens of thousands of people out of their homes, authorities said. At least another 17 died in Bosnia, but the death toll is expected to rise as floodwaters recede in some locations, laying bare the full scale of the damage.
The coal-fired Nikola Tesla power plant supplies electricity for half of Serbia and most of Belgrade. It is located in Obrenovac, the worst flood-hit town near Belgrade where some 7,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, which were mostly completely submerged in water. Some 2,000 people are still believed trapped in higher floors of buildings, without power or phone lines.
Predrag Maric, a Serbian emergency official, said Monday that the situation in Obrenovac is still critical. He said that so far thousands of soldiers, policemen and volunteers have managed to "defend" the power plant from the surging Sava River waters by building high walls of sandbags.
Three months' worth of rain fell on the Balkan region in three days, producing the worst floods since rainfall measurements began 120 years ago.
Surging water coursed through towns and villages in Serbia and Bosnia and to a lesser extent in Croatia, flowing across streets and into homes, sweeping bridges off their moorings. Sodden hills crumbled into landslides. Hundreds of buses and cars were stranded on flooded roads.
Floodwaters have also triggered more than 3,000 landslides across the Balkans. In Bosnia, the water surge disturbed land mines left over from the region's 1990s war, along with warning signs that marked location of the unexploded weapons.