The heaviest rains in more than a century have sparked floods across Bosnia and Serbia, claiming at least 30 lives and leading to the evacuation so far of more than 16,000 from flooded villages, officials said Saturday.
"More than 20 corpses have so far been brought to the city's morgue," the mayor of the northern Bosnian town Doboj, Obren Petrovic, told Bosnia's FTV public broadcaster. Another victim drowned in the town of Samac, police chief Gojko Vasic was quoted by Fena news agency as saying. And the bodies of two elderly women were found in the town of Maglaj after the waters withdrew, the civil protection chief there told reporters. Four flood victims had been found in Bosnia and three in Serbia on Friday.
The death toll could rise. Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told reporters that "rescuers have started recovering dead bodies from flooded areas, but we will not make the number public before the complete withdrawal of the water."
Hardest hit has been the town of Obrenovac, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Belgrade, where the entire town is now being evacuated amid warnings of more flooding, Predrag Maric of the emergency services said. Reporters were banned from entering the town, but a local television channel broadcast footage from a helicopter showing that most of the city was flooded, with water swamping the lower floors of six-storey buildings.
Water defences gave way outside Obrenovac near a power plant that produces about half of Serbia's electricity, prompting authorities to urge citizens to limit their use of electricity. Some 78,000 homes in Serbia and 60,000 in Bosnia have no power at all, authorities said.
Sirens wailed in the nearby town of Baric as police ordered its 7,000 inhabitants to leave. An AFP photographer saw military and police helicopters evacuating women and children, while others were leaving the town by car or walking towards buses carrying bags with some of their belongings.
The European Commission said 14 EU countries were sending aid including helicopters and motorboats, as well as food and medicine, to the flooded Balkan countries.
'I couldn't move anywhere'
Belgrade has opened 13 centres to receive thousands of evacuees. In one sports venue turned into a shelter, around 400 people sat on improvised beds, recounting their rescues.
Svetlan Joksimovic, 74, said he was forced to leave as "floods were carrying everything away." "I do not know what happened to my cattle, I released the animals so they could swim," he told AFP.
Danka Kistovic said a neighbour pulled her out of her flooded house using a rope. "I couldn't move anywhere, water flooded everything. I couldn't go out any other way, so a neighbour came to me and put a rope around my waist, pulling me slowly towards their terrace where rescuers picked me up later," she said.
Many people were unable to track their family members since the authorities had not yet had time to compile lists of those evacuated.
Volunteers for flood defences
Thousands of volunteers from Belgrade, Novi Sad and other towns went overnight to help set up flood defences in the western town of Sabac, where the Sava river has risen well above historic levels following the worst rains since records began in the late 19th century. "Dozens of other cities throughout Serbia were devastated by floods," Maric of the emergency services said.
Over the border in Bosnia, local authorities have begun evacuating five villages around the eastern town of Bjeljina, which has also lost electricity. In the region of Zenica a number of villages were cut off so rescuers, including from neighbouring Croatia and Slovenia, were using some 15 helicopters to evacuate people. Landslides had destroyed dozens of homes.
Downstream in Croatia, officials were on high alert amid fears that the Sava would overflow and flood the east of the country.
The world number two seed Novak Djokovic appealed from Rome, where he booked his place in the final of the Rome Masters, for help and solidarity with his native Serbia. "Support and solidarity for my people in Serbia! #serbiafloods#unite#crisis Please SHARE!," Djokovic wrote on his Facebook page, where he has more than four million followers.