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Serbian capital braces for flood surge that threatens Serbia's main power plant

  • APTOPIX Bosnia Landslide-1.jpg

    Bosnian people walk on a broken road after a landslide which swept away eight houses near Kalesija, Bosnia, 150 kms north of Sarajevo, Sunday May 18, 2014. Packed into buses, boats and helicopters, carrying nothing but a handful of belongings, tens of thousands fled their homes in Bosnia and Serbia, seeking to escape the worst flooding in a century. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)The Associated Press

  • Balkans Floods-2.jpg

    This image made available by the Serbian police shows the flooded area in Obrenovac, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, May 18, 2014. In Serbia, more than 20,000 people have been forced from their homes. Officials there fear more flooding later Sunday as floodwaters travel down the Sava and reach the country. Serbian officials said that the flood wave might be lower than initially expected, because the river broke barriers upstream in Croatia and Bosnia. Experts said they expect Sava floodwaters to rise for two more days, then subside. (AP Photo/Serbian Police)The Associated Press

  • Balkans Floods-3.jpg

    Bosnian people are rescued from their flooded houses by boat in the village of Vidovice near Orasje 200 kms north of Sarajevo, on Sunday May 18, 2014. Packed into buses, boats and helicopters, carrying nothing but a handful of belongings, tens of thousands fled their homes in Bosnia and Serbia, seeking to escape the worst flooding in a century. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)The Associated Press

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.