Serbia Death Toll Rises to 17 in Worst Floods in 1,000 Years

May 18, 2014 11:03 am ET

May 18 (Bloomberg) -- The death toll in Serbia from the worst flooding seen in 1,000 years has risen to 17 as the capital Belgrade braces itself for a “flood wave.”

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said today 12 bodies were discovered in the town of Obrenovac, 25 kilometers southwest of the capital, amid concern more will be found, the state-owned Tanjug newswire reported. The previous official death toll was five.

Thousands of volunteers were piling up sandbags along the banks of the Sava river in Belgrade as the met office warned water levels could exceed safe depth by as much as 6 meters on May 21. President Tomislav Nikolic said the damage could reach “billions of euros.”

“We have a chance to save ourselves,” Vucic told a meeting of his cabinet in Belgrade today. “We have managed to avoid the biggest catastrophe” after “a rainfall that happens once in a thousand years.”

Serbia declared a state of emergency on May 15, after record rainfall triggered floods that killed at least five people in one day. More than 24,000 have been evacuated and some 7,000 homes left without electricity, Predrag Maric, the head of the Serbian Interior Ministry’s emergencies unit, said.

Russia, the European Union, the U.S., Turkey and Belarus have sent helicopters, planes, rescue units and life-saving equipment. Donors have been asked to provide canned and baby food, medicines and disinfectants, Vucic said. The government has also mobilized psychologists to assist people at shelters.

Exposed Dead Bodies

Heavy rain initially hit the western parts of Serbia, bordering Bosnia, where six people were found dead. Two were missing in eastern Croatia, state radio reported, citing local police. In Serbia and Bosnia, where more than two million people have been affected, the army was preparing to clean and disinfect areas where receding waters exposed dead bodies and animals.

The United Nations will send its specialized teams to Serbia and “is fully mobilized and stands ready to provide the government with support in coordinating the international emergency assistance,” its office in Belgrade said in an e- mail.

The World Bank will consider releasing some aid from its emergency fund to help Serbia recover from the disaster and “the International Monetary Fund also expressed understanding for the hardship and pressures on the budget resulting from this,” Economy Minister Dusan Vujovic said in an e-mail.

Finance Minister Lazar Krstic told private TV broadcaster Pink that contact has been made with the European Investment Bank about 30-year loans, and central bank governor Jorgovanka Tabakovic told newspaper Blic the government will organize public works to rebuild towns, roads and rail tracks.

--With assistance from Jasmina Kuzmanovic in Zagreb.