Flood surge threatens power plant near Belgrade

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Two men trying to restart their van stuck in a flooded street in Obrenovac, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, May 19, 2014. Belgrade braced for a river 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 35 people have died in Serbia and Bosnia in the five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain, laying waste to entire towns and villages and sending tens of thousands of people out of their homes, authorities said. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Two men trying to restart their van stuck in a flooded street in Obrenovac, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, May 19, 2014. Belgrade braced for a river 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 35 people have died in Serbia and Bosnia in the five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain, laying waste to entire towns and villages and sending tens of thousands of people out of their homes, authorities said. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

This image taken on taken Sunday, May 18, 2014 and made available by the Bosnia Army shows an aerial view of the flooded area near the Bosnian town of Brcko along the river Sava, 200 kms north of Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. Three months’ worth of rain fell on the Balkan region in three days, producing the worst floods since rainfall measurements began 120 years ago. (AP Photo/Bosnia Army)

A Bosnian man passes a house destroyed in a landslide near Tuzla, 140 kms north of Sarajevo, on Monday May 19, 2014. Three months’ worth of rain fell on the Balkan region in three days, producing the worst floods since rainfall measurements began 120 years ago. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

This image taken on taken Sunday, May 18, 2014 and made available by the Bosnia Army shows an aerial view from a helicopter of the flooded area near the Bosnian town of Brcko along the river Sava, 200 kms north of Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. Three months’ worth of rain fell on the Balkan region in three days, producing the worst floods since rainfall measurements began 120 years ago. (AP Photo/Bosnia Army)

This image taken on taken Sunday, May 18, 2014 and made available by the Bosnia Army shows an aerial view of the flooded area near the Bosnian town of Brcko along the river Sava, 200 kms north of Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. Three months’ worth of rain fell on the Balkan region in three days, producing the worst floods since rainfall measurements began 120 years ago. (AP Photo/Bosnia Army)

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbian authorities ordered the urgent evacuation of 12 villages and towns along the raging Sava River on Monday, including one where soldiers, police and volunteers have been working around the clock to protect Serbia’s main power plant.

The coal-fired Nikola Tesla power plant, which supplies electricity for half of Serbia and most of Belgrade, lies in the flood-hit town of Obrenovac, 20 kilometers (16 miles) upstream of the capital. Emergency crews have so far defended the power plant by building high walls of sandbags but it’s not clear those will withstand the force of an upcoming river surge.

Serbian police chief Nebojsa Stefanovic ordered the town completely evacuated of civilians, along with 11 villages along the Sava.

Serbia and Bosnia are struggling with the worst flooding in southeastern Europe in more than a century. At least 35 people have died in five days of flooding caused by unprecedented torrential rain. Entire towns and villages are underwater, thousands of hills have crumpled into landslides and tens of thousands have been forced to flee their homes.

The death toll is expected to rise further as floodwaters recede after the worst rainfall in 120 years of records.

The situation in Obrenovac was critical Monday, said Predrag Maric, a Serbian emergency official. The Sava flood wave was expected to reach Obrenovac and Belgrade later Monday and peak by Wednesday.

Some 7,800 people have already been evacuated from the town, where many homes are completely submerged by water. But another 2,000 people are still believed trapped in the higher floors of buildings there, without power or phone lines.

In Bosnia, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija called the flood damage “immense” and compared it to the carnage during the country’s 1992-95 war that killed at least 100,000 people and left millions homeless. He said the flooding had destroyed about 100,000 houses and 230 schools and hospitals and left a million people without drinking water.

“The only difference from the war is that less people have died,” he said. “The country is devastated … this is something that no war in the history of this country” ever accomplished.

In Orasje, a Bosnian border town, frantic efforts were being made to prevent the Sava further surging through broken barriers. Ideas included dropping old trucks from helicopters or covering the gaps with wire frames and then reinforcing with sandbags.

The emergency commander in the town, Fahrudin Solak, said the decaying corpses of drowned farm animals now represented a major health risk.

“We are sending out mobile incinerators and we have asked for international assistance, to send us more incinerators to prevent diseases,” he said.

Floods have also triggered more than 3,000 landslides across the Balkans. Aside from sweeping away home and barns, the landslides have carried land mines left over from the region’s war, along with their warning signs, to entirely new, often unknown, locations.

“Landslides and land mines devastated very fertile land,” Lagumdzija said.

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Associated Press writers Sabina Niksic and Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and

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