December 20, 2014
Historic flooding leaves 37 dead in the Balkans
Soldiers, police and volunteers battled to protect power plants in Serbia from rising flood waters as the death toll from the Balkan region's worst rainfall in more than a century reached 35.
"The situation is catastrophic," Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said, and warned that the death toll would likely rise.
Russian cargo planes carrying boats, generators and food joined rescue teams from around Europe and thousands of local volunteers in evacuating people and building flood defences after the River Sava, swollen by days of torrential rain, burst its banks.
Rains eased and flood waters receded on Sunday in some of the worst-hit areas of Serbia and Bosnia, but the River Sava was forecast to continue rising.
Serbia's EPS power utility said a fresh flood wave from the Sava and Mlava rivers threatened the Nikola Tesla and Kostolac power plants. Capacity has already been cut back at the Nikola Tesla plant in Obrenovac, Serbia's largest.
The Mlava overwhelmed sandbag flood defences this morning near Kostolac, threatening to flood coal mines and the plant itself. Power plant workers joined soldiers and police in trying to divert the water, digging up a road in one area.
Villagers nearby were evacuated, many of them refugees from the 1990s wars in Bosnia and Croatia. Kostolac currently covers 20 percent of Serbia's electricity needs.
Flooding had already cut Serbian power generation by 40 percent, forcing the cash-strapped country to boost imports.
Vucic said a fire and flooding of surface mines at the 1,300 megawatt Kolubara coal-fired power plant southwest of Belgrade had caused damage of "at least 100 million euros".
The economic impact of the floods is likely to be huge, devastating the agricultural sector vital to both the Serbian and Bosnian economies.
"These are the kind of waters not seen in 1,000 years, let alone 100," Vucic told a televised cabinet session.