Hundred-year Balkan floods: a report from the ground

Guest blog by Rastko Šejić from Obrenovac, Serbia, 350.org Global Power Shift participant

Obrenovac, Serbia

It’s 6:00 on 16th May when an SMS from my little sister Rastislava wakes me up to a gloomy morning. It’s been raining heavily for three days. My sister’s message reads, “Our neighbourhood is under water”. I call her immediately.

From our third-floor apartment in Obrenovac, Serbia, my sister sees nothing but brown water, more than 1 m high. There is no getting out on foot. No electricity, no running water. My sister woke up from the emergency sirens.

I’m in Bosnia. What can I do? I try to calm my sister down, tell her to pack a few basic things and wait for the rescue teams. Save batteries, rationalise water and food, talk to the neighbours… then the mobile network goes down. I try again and again to reach family and friends in Obrenovac without success. There is no way of communication.

Photo taken by Rastko’s neighbour Goran Radojcic

Photo taken by Rastko’s neighbour Goran Radojcic

 

Two hours later, I see the first image of our house on the Internet. The water has reached the ground floor. I manage to get through to my friend Marko who is a photographer. He is in the deserted streets with his camera. He says it’s getting worse by the minute.

I keep trying to phone people. Without success. Hours of silence.

Photo taken by Rastko’s friend Marko Ristic

Photo taken by Rastko’s friend Marko Ristic

 

At 18:30 I finally get an SMS from my sister. Rescue teams have evacuated children and their mothers from our building. There aren’t enough boats. I want to tell her to be patient but my message doesn’t get through.

Calls for help with addresses of trapped people show up on my phone, Facebook and Twitter. I share them with the few people that are in contact with the rescue teams and with volunteers who came with their boats to support the police and army. I kept on sharing this information for days, until most people were evacuated. It is such a relief to hear that someone is safe, even if all you know is their address and maybe that they are pregnant, children, ill or hungry.

 

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At 2:30 on 17th May, I finally get a call from my sister. She is on a bus. All wet but rescued. Our next door neighbours didn’t want to leave. They distrust the government. My sister is safe! I fall asleep on my notebook.

The next day, some of my friends get in touch. They are alive, either rescued or still in their homes in Obrenovac. Friends from all over the region call me to ask about my family, offer their homes and help. Tears, smiles, love and rage at what happened. The Balkan wars and NATO bombings have not killed empathy.

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