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Danube floods force thousands from Romanian homes

Written by: Staff
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SPANTOV, Romania, Apr 26 (Reuters) Thousands of Romanians fled low-lying areas of the Danube basin over the last 24 hours as the river overwhelmed flood defences to swamp roads and farmland, government officials said today.

Europe's second-longest river -- swollen by rain and the spring run-off -- has swept over vast tracts of land in central and southeastern Europe this month.

The flooding has forced thousands of people living on the Danube's flood plains out of their homes, including more than 5,000 people from Romania in the last day.

''Around 2,500 people have been displaced overnight from the villages of Sarata, Sapata, Bechet and Macesu in the Dolj county as a precautionary move,'' the region's prefect Nicolae Giugea told Reuters today.

In the villages of Spantov and Chiselet, further downstream in the county of Calarasi, around 3,000 people fled their homes over the past day and have been accommodated in military tents pitched on higher ground.

''It's incredibly painful to see your wealth amassed by your father in 60 years disappearing within seconds,'' said Marian Ilie from Spantov, who spent a night in a makeshift tent along with his wife and children.

Rescue workers worked around the clock to reinforce mud dikes with sandbags and reeds but have failed to stop the waters from spreading into some areas.

Mayor Constantin Oclei said the army had evacuated some 400 people from the town of Bechetul din Vale to nearby schools.

''Our efforts to reinforce the dikes have failed,'' Oclei said. ''We're now trying to convince five elderly people to leave their houses.'' Hydrologists said water flow receded to around 14,300 cubic metres per second near the Serbian-Romanian border today but many dikes remained at risk of cracking after holding back the Danube for weeks.

In Bulgaria, waters started to fall by between five and 11 centimetres in the past 24 hours and authorities have started to disinfect previously flooded areas.

Evacuated people have not yet returned because underground waters were still high and houses could not yet be drained.

''If the river continues to go down at this speed, it will withdraw completely in five to six days,'' said Georgi Linkov, head of the civil defence in Pleven.

The Balkans are still reeling from devastating floods which killed scores of people and left thousands homeless last summer.

The Danube originates in Germany and flows through or forms borders with 10 countries before emptying into the Black Sea.

In Hungary, estimates of damage say insurance claims could amount to 1 billion forints (.72 million), if defences hold, state news agency MTI reported.

REUTERS DKS HS1939

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