BELGRADE – Officials in the Balkans warned Tuesday of the risk of epidemics as the death toll from the worst floods in over a century hit 49 and water levels in Serbia inched ever higher.
Bosnia, where a million people were without drinking water, was in official mourning, while Serbia, where 1.6 million have been affected, was due to follow suit Wednesday.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic sounded the alarm over the possibility of disease as rising temperatures turn thousands of animal carcasses in the floodwaters putrid.
“There are tons of dead animals that we must dispose of,” Vucic said in parliament.
Health experts and army teams in Serbia and Bosnia wearing olive green protective uniforms were already working to decontaminate and disinfect the vast tracts of farmland underwater.
Tons of dead animals have already been recovered, but muddy areas and landslides have hampered the effort.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday that it had sent an expert to advise Serbian authorities on sanitation and ensuring safe drinking water.
The WHO said it was also working to mobilize medical supplies, especially those that help to fight diseases commonly spread by floods, such as illnesses that cause diarrhea.
“We will face a major fight against epidemics and infectious diseases, which are inevitable after such floods,” said Nermin Niksic, Muslim Croat Federation prime minister, one of the two entities that make up postwar Bosnia.
An intense deluge of rain last week caused the fast-flowing Sava River and its tributaries to burst their banks, leaving huge areas underwater and causing hundreds of landslides.
More than 100,000 people have been evacuated in Bosnia in the worst exodus since its 1992-95 war, while in Serbia some 30,000 have been forced to flee their homes.
In Croatia, some 15,000 people have been evacuated, including 4,000 in Gunja, where waters flooded the whole village. Two people have been killed, and one person remains missing.
Officials in Bosnia also warned Monday that some 120,000 unexploded mines left over from the Balkan wars of the 1990s may have been dislodged and moved by the floodwaters.
In Obrenovac, the Serbian town worst affected with more than half of the 20,000-strong population evacuated, health authorities on Tuesday began the gruesome task of removing victims.
On Monday, Vucic said 14 bodies had been discovered in Obrenovac so far. Half of those found had drowned, he said, while the others died of natural causes. The toll could still rise.
Authorities in the Balkans have also begun assessing the damage, which is expected to reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
Vucic on Monday said some analysts have estimated the cost to “rebuild a lot of roads, bridges and renew the infrastructure, which will not be easy,” could reach €1 billion ($1.4 billion).
“We are expecting significant help from foreign governments, we need a lot of medicine, food, and especially baby food and construction material,” he said.
The European Commission said Tuesday that 19 EU states had now offered assistance, with close to 400 relief workers from member countries already on the ground.