Galati, Romania (AFP) July 7, 2010
Inhabitants of Galati, eastern Romania, battled Wednesday to protect their homes from the rain-swollen Danube, hoping emergency dykes will hold as the 'blue' river threatens to burst its banks.
"In 2004 and 2006, the Danube had already reached a very high level but I have never seen it as high as today," 63-year-old pensioner Ioana Vancu told AFP.
Her house is located in one of the districts that could be flooded if an emergency dam built by the authorities does not hold.
"My insurer told me to put all my belongings in the attic but I could only carry some clothes up there," she added.
The Danube, the longest river in the European Union, could on Saturday top its highest ever recorded level of 6.90 metres (23 feet), Romanian authorities warned.
Galati, a city of 291,000 inhabitants and also the major inland harbour in Romania, is particularly at risk as it lies at the confluence of three major rivers swollen by torrential rains: the Danube, the Prut and the Siret.
Romania has been hit by severe storms and floods since June 21, which have left 25 people dead and forced thousands to leave their homes. Some have been able to get back in recent days.
On the Danube bank, 28-year-old Livia Baciu is building a small brick wall to prevent waters from entering the kiosk where she sells sweets and other goods.
"I have never seen floods like this and I am worried. If the dyke does not hold, I will lose everything", she told AFP, deploring the late warning given by local authorities.
To prevent "a major urban disaster," the government has decided to build an emergency 4.5-kilometre-long (2.8 mile) dam along the banks of the river. Since Sunday evening, more than 4,500 police officers, firemen, soldiers and volunteers have been stacking sand bags to complete the dam on time.
A second wall made of metal panels has also been built, "just in case."
"Galati is prepared for the worst," Romanian President Traian Basescu said during a visit on the site on Tuesday. "To see Galati flooded would be a shame for all of us. It would mean the authorities are powerless," he added.
Environment Minister Laszlo Borbely even called on God to help Romania avoid such a disaster: "We hope someone up there will help us because here on Earth we did everything human beings could do."
Upstream from Galati, in the village of I.C Bratianu, inhabitants decided to rely on themselves first to save their homes. Some of the houses, built very close to the river, have already had their backyard flooded.
"I took some days off from work in order to protect my house. We have to do something if we want to avoid being left only with pictures of our homes after the flood," a man in his thirties told AFP. He refused to give his name, like other inhabitants, fearing their criticism of the local mayor's passivity could infuriate the authorities.
"We did not have any bags to put sand in, we did not have any tools to make the dam higher so we had to collect money to get all this done. Only then did the mayor start doing something," another inhabitant said.
Four European countries --Austria, Belgium, Estonia and France -- have already offered help to Romania to cope with the devastating floods.
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Romania issues flooding red alert on the Danube
Bucharest (AFP) July 5, 2010
Romanian authorities on Monday issued a flooding red alert for several towns along the Danube, which has risen to a record level, threatening to cause further damage in the hard-hit country. "This week we will be facing dangerous meteorological and hydrological events," Prime Minister Emil Boc said after an emergency meeting of the government. The Danube has topped its record level in th ... read more
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