Flooding threat in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria

Floods threatened cities and fertile lands across Serbia, and record water levels in one of Europe's longest rivers surged downstream toward neighboring Romania and Bulgaria on Monday. In Serbia, emergency crews and volunteers struggled to keep embankments and sand barriers from giving way as the Danube River's water levels started receding. Meanwhile, the Tisa River, which flows from Hungary in the north, started rising dramatically.

Thousands of civil protection workers and soldiers in Romania and Bulgaria were working to bolster dikes and build new ones. The peak of the Danube floodwaters was expected to reach the two Balkan countries in the next few days. Spring melting of snow together with heavy rains has led to floods throughout southeastern Europe in the past few weeks.

The Danube Europe's second-longest river was flowing at a record 15,800 cubic meters (558,000 cubic feet) per second, or double the average for this time of year, Romania's Environment and Water Management Ministry said. The Danube's water level at Bulgaria's northwestern port city of Vidin rose by 5 centimeters (2 inches) in the last 24 hours, reaching a record 9.7 meters (31.6 feet) on Monday morning, the Civil Defense Agency said.

More than 500 residents were evacuated in the southern Romanian villages of Rast and Negoi after a dike collapsed Sunday, flooding the communities. In the southern Romanian port city of Calarasi, a recently opened riverside hotel was flooded early Monday, causing significant damage to the building. Dozens of tourists and personnel were evacuated.

Romanian authorities were continuing to use controlled flooding of agricultural land to reduce the pressure of the swollen river on dikes protecting populated areas.

Several border crossings over the river separating Romania and Bulgaria were closed temporarily. Authorities restricted traffic at the Giurgiu border crossing, with hundreds of cars waiting on the Romanian side of the border. Last year, flash floods on other rivers killed 74 people and caused over 1.5 billion (US$1.8 billion) worth of damage in Romania.

The ports in Lom, Oryahovo, Somovit and Nikopol in Bulgaria were completely submerged, as were thousands of acres of farmland along the Danube, authorities said. In Ruse, Bulgaria's main Danube city, the water level remained unchanged on Monday at 8.8 meters (28.75 feet), which is the highest level measured on an April 17 ever since official record-keeping of the river's water levels began in Bulgaria, authorities said.

Over the weekend, the Danube reached an all-time high of 9.41 meters (31 feet) near Veliko Gradiste, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Belgrade. In the eastern Serbian town of Smederevo, authorities dispatched all city workers to fight flooding. In northern Vojvodina province known as Serbia's breadbasket for its wheat and corn production the flooding and heavy rains submerged some 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of farmland and turned another 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) into mud and slush, reports the AP.

N.U.