More Than One Million Suffer Worst Flooding In Over A Century

CREDIT: AP/Darko Vojinovic

People build a dam made up of sandbags by the bank of the Sava river in Sremska Mitrovica, 90 kilometers west of Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, May 17, 2014.

At least 25 people are dead and tens of thousands more are without water or electricity as record rainfall in the Balkan countries of Bosnia and Serbia has led to the worst flooding in 120 years of data.

Three months’ worth of rain fell in three days last week, causing almost a third of Bosnia to resemble a muddy lake. Those spared direct flooding have been hit by one of around 300 landslides occurring in the last several days. Bosnian Security Ministry spokesman Admir Malagic said that about one million people, more than a quarter of the country’s population, inhabit the affected area.

“Bosnia is facing a horrible catastrophe,” said Bakir Izetbegovic, the chairman of the Bosnian three-man presidency. “We are still not fully aware of actual dimensions of the catastrophe … we will have to take care of hundreds, thousands of people.”

Beyond the elements of natural disaster, the floods are uprooting or otherwise jeopardizing the more than 100,000 landmines left over from the regional conflict in the 1990s.

“The torrential rain, floods and landslides are likely to cause the mines to move,” writes Guy De Launey of BBC News. “Warning signs have already been washed away in a number of places. When the floods finally recede, there will be an urgent need for the deminers to move in.”

In neighboring Serbia, the situation is just as dire, with the worst possibly yet to come as the Sava River swells downstream, peaking in the next day or two.

“What happened to us happens not once in 100 years, but once in 1,000 years,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said at a government meeting.

On Saturday, Serbia’s most famous athlete, tennis star Novak Djokovic, used his prominence to call on the media to help raise awareness of the flooding in his country, accusing CNN and BBC of neglecting the issue and calling it a “total catastrophe of biblical proportions”.

“There have not been floods like this in the existence of our people,” said the former world’s number 1 tennis player. “I don’t really know how to describe it. Half the country is in danger of not having any electricity, there is total immobilization, evacuations — and we’re talking about whole cities, not small villages.”

A state of emergency has also been called in Austria, where several villages in the southern part of the country have been cut off due to flooding. Rescue teams from Russia and the European Union are assisting with the relief efforts.