By Stefan J. Bos with additional reporting by Laura Ieraci
BELGRADE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Pope Francis appealed for prayers for the victims of floods in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, while Christian aid workers rushed to the region, amid reports that as many as 40 people have drowned over the last three days.
Helicopters fully loaded with mothers tightly holding their babies and other desperate people fly across Serbia and neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina in a massive effort to rescue residents.
But the airlift has come to late for at dozens of people. They drowned, mainly in Serbia, in what authorities have called the region’s worst rainfall and flooding, since records began 120 years ago.
And some have reportedly watched in disbelief as an aircraft left family members behind on a roof sticking out of a sea of water in Bosnia Herzegovina. There was no more place in the helicopter.
Rescue teams, including from Catholic charity Caritas Serbia, have been struggling to evacuate thousands of people from flooded areas.
They also try to reach flooded areas in boats, but it isn’t easy. A bridge span ripped off by the Bosna River is swept downstream and destroys another bridge near the town of Zavidovici in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina.
And the Bosnian Mine Action Center has warned that floods and as many as 300 landslides have moved at least some of the many minefields that contaminate Bosnia-Herzegovina since the 1992-1995
A lack of often adequate infrastructure is believed to have added to the high death toll in the Balkans.
Despite the difficulties, tens of thousands of people could be evacuated, including in Serbia’s capital Belgrade, where more than 15-thousand people were forced to find shelter in schools and sports halls.
Many in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have taken refuge with relatives in dry areas or simply continue to live on the upper floors of their flooded residences, he added.
Caritas Serbia says it is distributing food and basic hygiene items and is currently assessing to provide more coordinated assistance later this week.
It is also considering providing food for animals that survived the flood. The River Sava is the biggest danger at the moment, he warned.
While hundreds of thousands of sandbags were placed along the river to raise the embankments, there is now water “coming (down) through the forest” and it is extremely difficult to control, the coordinator said.
“It is still impossible to say what will be the final outcome at the level of damage,” he added.
And, with more flooding expected, rescue workers in Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina face more difficulties.
The European Union is preparing to help, after requests for more water pumps, expert teams and helicopters. Heavy rainfall has also caused havoc in other countries in the region such as Croatia, Hungary, Poland and even Austria. “It is still impossible to say what will be the final outcome at the level of damage,” Tot said.
He said Caritas Serbia needs outside support to provide assistance. The best way to help at the moment is through financial assistance because goods can be purchased on the local level “and then it’s just a matter of distribution,” he added.
Tot urged the world “to keep the people in the Balkan region top-of-mind in the coming weeks and months”.
“Don’t forget us because after this first impact these people will come back to their empty houses and will still (have) huge problems,” he stressed. “They are already asking for some psychological support … and we should not abandon them.”
On the Web: www.caritas.rs
(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since May 2004).
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