Thousands wait for evacuation from Balkan floods

By AIDA CERKEZ and JOVANA GEC | May 16, 2014 | 12:05 PM EDT

A member of the Bosnian army carries a boy rescued from his home, during floods, in the Bosnian town of Maglaj, 150 kms north of Sarajevo, Friday May 16, 2014. Two people drowned in Serbia and the country declared a national emergency Thursday as rain-swollen rivers across the Balkans flooded roads and bridges, shut down schools and cut off power. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated. In Serbia and neighboring Bosnia, meteorologists said the rainfall was the most since measuring started 120 years ago. Belgrade authorities say the average rainfall of a two-month period hit the city in just 40 hours. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Samira Mahmic thought she was getting her life back when she was winched into a helicopter with her 10-year-old son clinging to her amid the worst flooding in more than a century in the Balkans.

But she froze when she realized the helicopter was now fully loaded and she looked down to see her 17-year-old daughter Amina, watching in disbelief as the aircraft left her behind on a roof sticking out of a sea of water.

"I thought they would go back but it got too late last night," Mahmic said Friday.

Luckily her daughter's mobile phone still had some battery Friday morning and Mahmic was able to reassure herself that her daughter and husband were both still alive.

"It's Judgment Day in Maglaj," Mahmic said of her northern Bosnian hometown that was hit by the heaviest rainfall since measuring started 120 years ago.

Rain-swollen rivers across the Balkans have flooded roads, cut off power and caused more than 200 landslides.

Two people died in Serbia on Thursday, and on Friday the waters took two lives in Bosnia. The wall of a house collapsed and killed an elderly man, and a landslide in the eastern town of Cerska killed one woman, police said.

In Cerska the mud has pushed the mosque some 100 meters down the slope and only the minaret is still visible. One more person is missing after a rescue boat turned over and he disappeared in the water.

In Serbia 6,000 people have been forced out of their homes.

"In three days, as much rain fell as normally falls in three months," said Goran Mihajlovic, of Serbia's Meteorological Institute.

"Statistically, such rainfall happens once in 100 years," he added.

Both Bosnia and Serbia have requested international help and a Russian emergency team has flown in to join the rescue efforts. Croatia and Slovenia have sent two helicopters and rescuers. Luxembourg is sending 23 rescuers with six boats and Austria offered six boats, Bosnia's Security Ministry said.

Sasa Obradovic from Bosnia's Mine Action Center said floods and landslides have moved some of the minefields that contaminate Bosnia since the 1992-95 war.

Mahmic sobbed as she described seeing from the helicopter on Thursday people on roofs and balconies waving baby clothes, signaling they are trapped with small infants. Water had reached second floors.

After having dug through landslides for three days, rescuers on Friday reached Maglaj by road and are delivering boats, blankets and food to the desperate population.


Irena Knezevic reported from Banja Luka, Bosnia and Jovana Gec from Belgrade, Serbia