LIVE BLOGS AND UPDATES: Devastating Floods in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia

Hello to our friends in the region and around the world. We hope wherever you are, you’re safe. Please send any info, photos, or updates to editor@balkanist.net, and check back here for more info about the worst floods to have hit Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia in recorded history.

Saturday, May 24

3:45 AM: Authorities are now telling us to avoid eating fruits and vegetables from flood-affected areas, along with the drinking water. Though they’ve lied at nearly every stage of this disaster, which could have at least been mitigated by heeding the warnings of scientists or putting more money into actual emergency preparedness rather than staging fake blizzard rescue missions for a camera crew before an election, it’s probably a good idea not to consume these items.

Friday, May 23

11:00 PM: Rain is expected across much of the region most affected by flooding in coming days. Let’s hope those sandbags hold.

Thursday, May 22

10:40 PM: Last night, we asked our readers to photoshop the donation info on the excellent poster below from the Serbian government’s official PayPal account info to the Serbian Red Cross — the same organization listed for the other two countries. One of our readers, Adam Burns, came through for us. Here’s the poster, with Red Cross donation info for all countries. Feel free to share! P.S. You can also give to Save the Children – Balkan Flood Relief Fund.

Thank you, Adam Burns!
Thank you, Adam Burns!

9:15 PM: “When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Ulla Välk, 2011/www.ullavalk.nl/Image courtesy of the artist.
Ulla Välk, 2011/www.ullavalk.nl/Image courtesy of the artist.

5:00 PM: Hotel Obrenovac, in the Serbian city most affected by the floods, was the second largest center for the temporary accommodation of asylum seekers in the country.

Hotel Obrenovac.
Hotel Obrenovac.

Wednesday, May 21

10:50 PM: The Serbian government (i.e. PM Vucic) is terrified of being criticized for its response to the flooding, and rumors abound that media professionals who have dared question the efforts of officials have had their websites or email hacked. We also received suspicious spam at our “tips” address today:

Just a bunch of random letters? Don't open the link. The Serbian government is so bad at computers.
Just a bunch of random letters? Don’t open the link. The Serbian government is so bad at computers.

This isn’t an entirely anomalous occurrence, but it does seem rather strange. Thankfully, we’ve spent enough time in the San Francisco Bay Area to know what “spam” looks like, and that only grandmothers would open a link like that. If the Serbian government is going to get inside my computer, it’s going to have to get a little more sophisticated.

This is a slightly more sophisticated example, but still. Not quite there. Nice try, though.
This is a slightly more sophisticated example, but still. Not quite there. Nice try, though.

Another important thing to point out:

This is a beautiful poster with a beautiful message. But Serbia is the only country that directs donors to put their money towards the government. For Croatia and Bosnia, Red Cross info is provided. Beware the subtle manipulations.
This is a beautiful poster with a beautiful message. But Serbia is the only country that directs donors to put their money towards the government. For Croatia and Bosnia, Red Cross info is provided. Beware the subtle manipulations.

We are asking one of our photoshop-saavy readers to change the donations info for Serbia from the government’s PayPal account to the Serbian Red Cross.

6:30 PM: The latest from Al-Jazeera: “Balkan flood devastation exceeds war damage“.

“Officials in Bosnia said they fear the damage caused by heavy rains and landslides would exceed that caused by the entire Balkan conflict fought between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats between 1992 and 1995.”

11:00 AM: Many media outlets have cited the shifting of land mines and signs marking mined areas as a significant humanitarian concern. The latest report from ReliefWeb, a service provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), gives the following information:

1) 70% of the flood-affected areas (Doboj, Maglaj, Olovo, Una-Sana Canton, and Brcko) is suspected to contain mines and UXOs; 800 sq/km of areas suspected to contain mines has been affected by the flood disaster;

2) Land mines and mine awareness signs have either moved or been washed away because of landslides and flooding; therefore, there is a high risk that current mine maps will be inaccurate;

minskeoznake-m

3) Mines and UXOs have reportedly been identified in the following:

– Brcko, confirmed mine explosion (no casualties reported);

– Bosanska Krupa,

– Visoko

– Semizovac

– Olovo (in particular the road between Olovo and Tuzla)

8:25 AM: “Doboj: Dead City”. Very grim video that nonetheless is probably an indication of what is ahead for much of the region:

7:50 AM: In Bosnia’s Tuzla Canton alone, there have been an estimated 1,500 landslides:

6:45 AM: We received a message from Dr. Emily Click of Harvard Divinity School, “a nonsectarian school of religious and theological studies based within a major research university”. Like the rest of Harvard, it also has an impressive list of alumni, including poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a former Greek Orthodox Archbishop.

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Dr. Emily Click, assistant Dean at Harvard Divinity School had the following message for the region:

“Please know that in spite of our media’s lack of interest, many of us around the world are concerned about you and are in prayer and thinking of you in this extremely challenging time.
I am closely following all of the news, including what is happening and is possibly going to happen as the next crest comes along the Sava. I do hope the powerplant continues operational as I think so much of the recovery will hinge upon how operational such basic aspects of the infrastructure are. 
 
I have been deeply moved to see the photos of all of the people turning out to sandbag. This is impressive: it shows a community filled with caring. It shows you know it is the way to build hope in the midst of what must at times be overwhelming despair. The many photos showing brave rescuers carrying out vulnerable beings: elderly, babies, and then also livestock and pets–these also testify to the strength of character among the people. Please remember that although much has been destroyed, and lost—you also are building a new thing.”
6:30 AM: Apologies for the delay. We’ve been experiencing intermittent losses of electricity and internet. We hope it stays on a bit longer this time!

Tuesday, May 20

11:00 AM:

1590503_Sinisa_Mali_v

On May 16, Belgrade mayor Sinisa Mali posted instructions on the city’s official website telling people in Obrenovac not to leave their homes, and later deleted the official posting when the river overflowed and people started dying.

That very same day, the Kolubara river crashed through a levee and covered 90 percent of the town in river water. Several casualties were reported. Obrenovac has been the municipality of Serbia hit hardest by the recent floods. As one of the 17 municipalities that make up the “greater Belgrade” area, Mali’s reassurances of safety as mayor were significant. The instructions were posted on the city of Belgrade’s official website, as “Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali’s” own orders. The mayor’s message was brief, but he urged his fellow citizens not to leave their homes in Obrenovac.

After the river came crashing into town, the instructions posted by “Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali” were deleted from the city of Belgrade’s official website. He clearly didn’t want a silly mistake like indifference to dent his stellar Belgrade career. But hiding from your past deeds is very difficult these days, and thanks to the internet, a cached version of the post still exists.

Screen-Shot-2014-05-19-at-6-1.43.56-PM

Reuters published an article the same day that Mali posted his instructions to the people of Obrenovac. It begins with a description of an apocalyptic scene:

OBRENOVAC, Serbia, May 16 (Reuters) – Boats sailed through the streets of a Serbian town on Friday on a mission to rescue people trapped by rising waters as the worst floods ever recorded swept Serbia and Bosnia. Some residents of Obrenovac, 30 km (20 miles) southwest of the capital Belgrade, were stranded on the roofs of their homes, calling for help. Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said all 25,000 citizens would have to be evacuated.

The municipality of Obrenovac has suffered more displacement and death than anywhere else in the country. Authorities have already acknowledged that 13 people have been killed in the floods, but everyone is bracing for an announcement about the official number of casualties, which is expected to be much higher. It’s also expected that sleaze like Mali will emerge with his career in tact, at least for a little while. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the dead, abandoned, and displaced of Obrenovac.

6:30 AM: There are at least two Facebook pages for people in Croatia who want to offer accommodation to flood evacuees:

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 6.48.59 AM https://www.facebook.com/pomoczrtvamapoplava https://www.facebook.com/pages/Slobodno-mjesto-za-evakuirane-iz-poplava-u-RH/1452607068315968

6:15 AM: Bosnia and Herzegovina has declared today a day of mourning. Flags will be flown at half-mast, events of an entertaining or cultural nature are prohibited in public spaces, and the media will alter its regular broadcasting. Initially, media reported that only the Federation would take part, but yesterday, officials in Republika Srpska said they would also declare today a day of mourning.

A man walks on the tracks near Tuzla, Bosnia (AP)
A man walks on the tracks near Tuzla, Bosnia (Photo credit: AP)
Man in Banja Luka
Man in Banja Luka (Photo credit: Beta/AP)

3:30 AM: A reader was kind enough to design this image and send it to us with the following message: “I heard last week about the flooding in Serbia, unfortunately I am living in America and cannot be there to help – but I wanted to send you this. My thoughts are with the Balkan people.” BoB_3kTIUAEAwqN 1:20 AM: “The floods shall sweep corruption clean” – Rudyard Kipling, “The Floods” Yesterday, Nenad Milosavljevic posted an article critical of the Serbian government and its response to the floods online, and shared it with friends. As a result, it appears his site was hacked and the article removed — more than once. Of course, this isn’t the first time Serbian language texts that portray Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic or his allies in a particularly unflattering light have been removed from the internet, as we’ve documented before. Milosavljevic’s censored text criticized the incompetencies of various ministers, including the Minister of Defense, who’s a ceramic sculptor by trade (to be fair, he’s also the owner of a company that sells tea). Vucic was criticized for “posing in a helicopter” for TV cameras while flying over villages submerged in water, and generally using the humanitarian disaster as another useful photo opportunity. Milosavljevic also wrote that he believed citizens and ordinary people had been more heroic than government officials in recent days, a sentiment shared by others in the region. The government was also criticized for its general lack of preparedness. (If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that we posted about the scientific community’s longstanding awareness about the growing vulnerability of Obrenovac municipality yesterday, as well as its attempts to warn various decision makers about the imminent possibility of mass flooding in the area).

Vucic in Obrenovac.
Vucic in Obrenovac.

We understand that in the middle of a national (or regional) disaster, setting aside petty differences allows us to work together and achieve our shared goal of helping out those who need it most. At the same time, that does not mean any citizen should lose their right to publicly criticize the ongoing rescue and relief effort. The US federal government’s indifferent non-response to Hurricane Katrina, and the appalling lack of humanitarian assistance provided to the (predominantly) African-American residents of New Orleans, was a deeply shameful moment in American history. The president and his administration appeared untroubled by the fact that innocent hurricane and flood victims were dying in a major US city. But public outcry about the Bush administration’s indifference actually forced America to confront some of its own racism. And that was a conversation that needed to happen, and that needs to continue happening, rather than be shut down by government censors.

Here’s Blind Willie Johnson, a singer and slide guitarist who spent a lot of time in New Orleans:

 

Monday, May 19

6:30 PM: Earlier today, the Sava also broke through levees in two places in Orašje, Bosnia. Authorities described the situation as “critical”, and Nedad Mimic (@NedadMemic), tweeted that medical personnel are urgently needed.

Photo credit: Soundset.hr
Photo credit: Soundset.hr

4:50 PM: A new wave of floodwater is currently threatening the town of Zabrežje in the municipality of Obrenovac in Serbia. The Interior Ministry is ordering an “immediate and total” evacuation of the area. In Serbia, the municipality of Obrenovac has been the hardest hit by the floods that have inundated the Balkans in recent days. Earlier today, the Serbian government issued a statement saying that protection of Kolubara thermal power plant, which is part of the Nikola Tesla thermal power complex, was “its highest priority”. Clearly the municipality of Obrenovac and the Kolubara basin is still highly vulnerable. The government has said it would not issue any official numbers about casualties until it had more information. Zabrežje is surrounded in rivers, including the rising Sava.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 5.17.55 PM

8:30 AM: For those of you in the UK, ebritic.com has assembled a list of businesses, individuals, and institutions in cities across the country collecting emergency supplies and donations for people affected by the floods in the Balkans. 2:50 AM: What might make some areas more vulnerable to flooding than others?

On Friday, a fire erupted in the Kolubara thermal power plant, which is part of the Nikola Tesla thermal power complex in Obrenovac (Photo credit: Novosti)
On Friday, a fire erupted in the Kolubara thermal power plant, which is part of the Nikola Tesla thermal power complex in Obrenovac (Photo credit: Novosti)

We know from various media reports that “three months’ worth of rain fell on the region in three days”, and that this is what caused the massive flooding we’ve seen in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia. But some areas have been more severely impacted than others. The flooding of the Kolubara river made the municipality of Obrenovac the most devastated area in Serbia: so far, 12 casualties have been reported, and that number is expected to rise. But scientists have long warned that the Kolubara basin, which is located in the municipality of Obrenovac, has grown increasingly vulnerable to “frequent and large scale floods” due to human activities. In the 2012 article “Land Use Changes and Environmental Problems Caused by Bank Erosion: A Case Study of the Kolubara River Basin in Serbia“, scientists Slavoljub Dragicevic, Nenad Zivkovic, Mirjana Roksandic, Stanimir Kostadinov, Ivan Novkovic, Radislav Tosic, Milomir Stepic, Marija Dragicevic and Borislava Blagojevic made several serious observations about Obrenovac’s vulnerability to the kind of heavy flooding we’ve seen in recent days [emphasis ours]:

“Geomorphological analysis of the dominant erosion processes and their intensity quantification were done in the previous researches of the Kolubara River basin [1-3]. The results showed that, the level of the landscape degradation and modification of geomorphologic processes by human activities has been increased in the past decades [4], and it was initiated by very fast demographic, socio-economic and technological changes in Serbia, likewise in the region…”
Evacuating Obrenovac (Photo credit: AFP)
Evacuating Obrenovac (Photo credit: AFP)
According to level and type of degradation, the Kolubara River basin belongs to the most endangered area in SerbiaDue to the lignite exploitation in the Kolubara River basin, human impact led to morphological change of the entire area, as well as to the changes of the intensity of different geomorphologic processes…”
The article also has an entire section dedicated to flooding in the area around Obrenovac:
“The Kolubara River is a good example which represents the existence of all conditions for frequent and large scale floods. As an indirect consequence of the anthropogenic influence on the hydrological system in the lower part of the Kolubara valley, once a year (sometimes twice a year) the Kolubara River overflows, and the area of lower part of the Kolubara River [editor’s note: where Obrenovac is located] basin is endangered by floods.”
Obrenovac municipality (Photo credit: Serbian Ministry of Defense)
Obrenovac municipality (Photo credit: Serbian Ministry of Defense)
“During the first decade of XXI century almost every two years the flood wave was bigger than the biggest one which occurs once in a fifty years. Huge flood waves were occurred in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. The last flood in December 2010 had already reached the maximum value which occurs once in a hundred years.”
The article also says that “floods are directly and indirectly linked to bank erosion”, which is linked to human activities, especially the diversions and removals of the river bed in preparation for Kolubara’s infamous (and famously corrupt) coal mining basin. As a result, several things occurred: “the process of fluvial erosion was changed; bank erosion became stronger and resulted in soil loss, larger amounts of sediment load deposition, cutting off the meanders and fossilization of certain parts of the riverbed, floods, land use changes, landscape degradation…”
Obrenovac
Obrenovac

The scientists concluded in 2012: “No one feels responsible that the population in this area is still left to the mercy of torrential river. Numerous calls for helping endangered people and goods were sent to the different addresses, but no one tried to help. Apparently, the problem goes beyond the ‘values’ of a few villages and the state interest (lignite exploitation) has absolute priority, like in the case of … the unique sources of Obrenovac Municipality.”

9:15 PM: The AP is reporting that floods triggered more than 3,000 landslides across Bosnia and Serbia today. Six villages were evacuated in the Brcko District, and Mayor Anto Domic told reporters that “unless the Bosnian Army is able to reinforce from the air”, the city of about 90,000 people “will be flooded completely”. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) had an accurate threat profile for Brcko last year: Hazard and Vulnerability Profile: Flood, Fire, Land Slide, Cold Wave Disaster Risk Reduction Activities: Sanitation of landslides, Maintenance of riverbeds, Protection and rescue Local government even signed a letter agreeing to participate in UNISDR’s program “Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready”.

Pismo namjere eng(1)

8:15 PM: The Serbian government says that the Sava river is now at the greatest danger of flooding, and that a new wave is expected to hit the river, which runs through the capital of Belgrade, on Wednesday, May 21. Photo: The Sava river in the Savamala neighborhood of Belgrade taken at around 2 AM this morning by Balkanist.

photo 3:50 PM: If you’re looking for missing friends or relatives in Serbia, a website, nestale.poplave.rs, has been set up to post and share information.

3:15 PM: The floods spread. Gunja, Croatia, a town on the left bank of the Sava river, is now completely underwater. Information from the Croatian Red Cross. Photo from Twitter: @15422R Bn657C0IQAAzSVB 3:10 PM: The German Foreign Office says that technical teams and experts have arrived in the region to provide assistance. More are being coordinated and are on their way.

3:00 PM: We’re back after a late morning, a day spent running around, and very little sleep. A reader from the Dutch organization Stichting Dierenopvang Bosnie, which helps stray dogs in Bosnia, asked us to provide information to our readers who may be interested in donating to rescue animals stranded or otherwise affected by the floods. They have been around for several years, and if you want you can contact them at info@hondenopvang.com. “We are supporting many volunteers who are trying to rescue as much as possible. If people want to donate, here’s how they can: NL59 INGB 00094 746 94 BIC : INGBNL2A Stichting Dierenopvang Bosnie If possible people can mention Floods, so we know it is meant to support the situation they are currently in! We need to help as much as possible”

Sunday, May 18

4:45 AM: Serbian broadcaster RTS has published lists of evacuees. In many cases, these people need medicine, and the lists specify the type of medicine they need. Photo from Twitter: @severzolak Bn39C55IcAAto8t.jpg-large 4:15 AM: It appears that the town of Janja in Bosnia has also been hit hard by the current flooding. The town is famous for “its river Drina and little river Janja”. Many displaced persons from elsewhere in Bosnia live there. Photo from Twitter: @DraganaMrkaja Photo from Twitter: @sejlala “Janja before & after” Bn4SHZ4IMAAZt0b.jpg-large

3:45 AM: Eyewitness and media reports indicate that Svilajnac, a town and municipality in central Serbia, is “destroyed”. Vojislav Nedeljkovic (@VojaNedeljkovic) tweeted: “there is very little food or water; there are many elderly and sick, babies and hungry children who have nowhere to go.” Svilajnac is situated on the banks of the river Resava, and borders the river Morava.

Nedeljkovic also shared a photo: Bn4XApTCMAApq7w 12:10 AM: Another great and secure way to give is through Save the Children’s Balkan Relief Fund.

Bn3hLzYCMAAG_6Z.jpg-large

11:40 PM: The Serbian chapter of the Red Cross says if you want to know if a particular person is on their official list of evacuees, send their name as a direct message (DM) to the Red Cross Serbia Twitter account@crvenikrstinfo

11:30 PM: Tomorrow at 21:30, there will be free buses from Budva, Montenegro to Serbia for those who wish to volunteer in the relief effort. Contact number in country is: 068/469-810.

11:10 PM: For our readers who wish to donate money to flood victims, we are recommending the International Red Cross. The organization has offices in both countries, and they’re coordinating relief efforts and distributing aid. Here’s information for Serbia and Bosnia.

11:00 PM: Saving people, saving animals: 10268411_668464753191000_8512761429669849075_n BnyiogxCAAA3ULQ 10173801_668464906524318_8964566099312430428_n 10304773_668464959857646_5597011067182805293_n 10307232_668464546524354_2430490777579787520_n 10313515_668464859857656_5285376948803703764_n 10309685_668464823190993_6490945312053922771_n 1509087_668464779857664_3545952309168342665_n 10292511_668464579857684_1270466201353806896_n 10395183_668464709857671_2490172354271651526_n 10363818_668464636524345_6660556791237121680_n 10394592_668464556524353_524884391519236270_n 10325791_668464479857694_8933826443733769421_n 10269653_668464439857698_1889247950960817242_n 10390369_668464419857700_2107199143198137921_n 10247220_668464346524374_8317998888944289446_n 1558386_668463843191091_716853960958759428_n 10334432_668464306524378_3287173007288432385_n 10268657_668464183191057_3146401578231491788_n 10:oo PM: A reader sent us the following info about how to help in Bosnia.

There will be organized working actions tomorrow, and buses will take volunteers to affected areas.

Below, there’s a list of places accepting donations for those displaced by the flooding: Faculty of Philosophy – from 10:00 to 16:00 every day!!! – Center for the Promotion of Civil Society – Gradačačka bb , near Malaysian bridge (every day except Sunday, during the period 9-15 hours) -Rooms FK Sarajevo ( club room ) – Caritas BK BiH ul Mehmed Beg Kapetanovića Ljubusaka 6 , 10-18 and 24/7 contact 063690456 – Shatro caffe – Bushido Karate Club -Faculty of Islamic Studies – Veterinary Medicine – Pomozi.ba ( Aziz Šaćirbegović 48 , near the robot Hrasno and Azići 12 , Ilidza) Every Red Cross office in the country… call and donate: BH Telekom 090 291 032 – 2,00 KM Eronet 092 890 830 – 1,80 KM mtel 1458 – 1 KM What is urgently needed: – Medicines (paracetamol, antiseptics, anti-diarrhea tablets, disinfectants) – Blankets, clothes, rubber boots, shovels … – Canned food, baby food and bottled water – Flashlights, candles – Hygiene products (soaps, disinfectants, dry wash products…) – Can openers

Organized working actions via Studentski parlament UNSA (Sunday 9:00 in Kampus UNSA buses will go towards Maglaj, Doboj, Olovo, Zavidovići etc.)
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