A man navigates his boat by the bank of the Sava river in Sremska Mitrovica, 90km west of Belgrade. Darko Vojinovic/AP/Press Association Images

Belgrade braced for massive "flooding wave" as disaster death toll tops 44

The flooding disaster has claimed at least 44 lives and forced thousands of people from their homes in Serbia and neighbouring Bosnia.

THOUSANDS OF VOLUNTEERS packed sandbags along the banks of Belgrade’s Sava river overnight to brace for a “flooding wave” after the heaviest rains in more than a century.

Mayor Sinia Mali said thanks to the defences, “Belgrade is ready for the flooding wave” predicted in the afternoon on the Sava, which joins the Danube in Belgrade.

The disaster has claimed at least 44 lives and forced thousands of people from their homes in Serbia and neighbouring Bosnia, where at least 20 people died in the northern town of Doboj alone.

Defences were meanwhile holding in the most threatened northwestern Serbian towns of Sabac and Sremska Mitrovica, upriver from Belgrade, according to Predrag Maric of Serbia’s emergency services.

Humanitarian aid, technical equipment and teams from Russia, the European Union and neighbouring Montenegro and Macedonia were pouring in, authorities said.

The official death toll in Serbia stands at three but is expected to jump, as authorities said they were recovering bodies but were withholding figures until the waters recede completely.

In Bosnia, in addition to the Doboj dead, flooding claimed another seven lives elsewhere in the country.

Although the weather has cleared following the worst rains since records began in the late 19th century, the situation remained critical along the Sava river, which passes through northern Bosnia and western Serbia.

Rescue teams continued evacuations overnight both in Bosnia from the most endangered towns of Samac and Bjeljina, and in Serbia from the town of Obrenovac where the evacuation of all 20,000 inhabitants had been ordered.

Some 10,000 people have been evacuated in Bosnia so far, according to local media, and at least 20,000 in Serbia as of late Saturday.

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, in Rome where he has reached the final of the Rome Masters, on Saturday posted an appeal for “support and solidarity for my people in Serbia!” on his Facebook page, where he has more than four million followers.

 © AFP, 2014

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